April 16 (UPI) — NASA and SpaceX engineers are prepping for Monday’s scheduled launch of the space agency’s next-generation planet-hunter.
With NASA’s Kepler probe low on fuel and soon to drop out of space, TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, will soon take on the roll of primary planet-hunter.
The spacecraft is scheduled to blast-off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Liftoff is set for 6:32 p.m. ET.
NASA expects favorable weather conditions.
The probe will be carried into space by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
“Our planet-hunting @NASA_TESS spacecraft will fly in a unique orbit that’ll allow it to study nearly the entire sky over 2 years,” NASA wrote on Twitter. “This special orbit is key in potentially finding thousands of new planets outside our solar system.”
While the Kepler spacecraft focused on small fields of view for long periods of time, TESS will take a wider, more comprehensive view.
“TESS is designed to image almost all of the night sky — using four wide-angle cameras,” Natalia Guerrero, an MIT scientist and researcher on the TESS mission, told UPI last week.
But unlike Kepler, TESS is designed to survey the sky, not carry out in-depth investigations. Scientists will rely on other telescopes, both ground and space-based, to observe transiting objects in greater detail. Through follow-up investigations, astronomers will be able to estimate an exoplanet’s mass and the composition of its atmosphere, as well as its habitability.
After separating from the second stage, the rocket’s first stage will descend and attempt to land upright on a robotic ship in the Atlantic. SpaceX will also try to recover the nose cone that protects the payload during liftoff. The nose cone will release a parachute after separation, and SpaceX will retrieve it from the ocean.
Monday’s launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV. Coverage will run from 6 to 8 p.m. ET. NASA TV will also broadcast a mission preview and two news conferences in the run up to this evening’s launch.