NASA's new planet-hunting mission begins

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"Over those first two years, which is the nominal mission for Tess, we're expecting to add thousands of planets; something like 2,000-3,000 planets that are certainly below the size of Jupiter, and majority below the size of Neptune".

SpaceX lifted off with NASA's planet-hunting TESS satellite Wednesday, delighting science and space fans who anticipate the spacecraft may discover planets that could harbor life. But he said there was something new happening with the current mission - SpaceX planned to fire the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket to kick it out of orbit, so that it doesn't become space trash in orbit. Kepler was launched by NASA during the year 2009 and till now it has spotted 2,650 confirmed exoplanets which are about 70 percent of all the worlds that are known beyond our solar system.

After the liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket sent the spacecraft on its way to orbit. The rocket launched at 6:51 p.m. EDT and reached Earth's orbit within 49 minutes. Once in-orbit testing has been completed, TESS will begin its initial two-year mission approximately 60 days after launch.

The satellite, about the size of a washing machine, will scan the stars for signs of periodic dimming, which may mean that planets are orbiting around them.

However, Mr Zurbuchen noted TESS's discoveries are expected to bring us closer to answering that lingering question.

The James Webb Space Telescope will, at $ €8 billion, be the most expensive and powerful telescope ever built, and Irish scientists are key to its success.

"Tess will tell us where to look at and when to look", said the mission's chief scientist, George Ricker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"TESS is the first step toward finding habitable planets", mission project scientist Stephen Rinehart said during a briefing.

Tess team members reveled in today's smooth, photogenic flight through clear skies, and NASA officials were delighted to clear the way for a May 5 launch of the Mars lander, InSight, from California.

Like Kepler, TESS is created to locate exoplanets by searching for what astronomers call transits.

Researchers expect that TESS will find around 20,000 planets to target for future study, Nell says.

It will then switch to the northern sky during the second year, ultimately covering around 85 per cent of the sky. No one is looking forward to losing what has been the most successful planet-finder in history-a mission that revealed there are more planets in the sky than stars.

Currently, the total exoplanet census stands at more than 3700, with another 4500 on the not-yet-verified list. TESS's four wide-field cameras were developed by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory.

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