SpaceX launches NASA's planet-finding spacecraft TESS

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TESS is the successor to NASA's much-loved Kepler space telescope, which has found nearly two-thirds of the more than 3,700 exoplanets we now know about.

TESS principal investigator George Ricker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said: "TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study".

If all goes as planned, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite should lift off Wednesday as early as 3:51 p.m. PDT on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. And it'll be blasted into orbit by SpaceX's famous, reusable Falcon 9 rocket. "The mission will find exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars, events called transits", NASA says in a Wednesday news release. These will likely include the James Webb Space Telescope, which is slated to launch in 2020.

Roughly the size of a refrigerator with solar-panel wings and four special cameras, TESS will take about 60 days to reach a highly elliptical orbit between Earth and the moon to begin its observations.

Musk wants to slow the upper stage down during reentry and target a landing aboard a "catcher ship" like the boat, known as Mr. Steven, that SpaceX is using to attempt fairing recoveries in the Pacific.

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NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will conduct a two-year survey to find potential planets orbiting stars relatively close to Earth. Scientists expect Tess to identify thousands of planets in our cosmic backyard, adding to the bounty provided over the past decade by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. SpaceX halted Monday's countdown for extra rocket checks.

NASA's newest satellite is scheduled to launch on the evening of Wednesday 18 April, 22:51 UTC.

But the rocket marks the first under a special certification SpaceX has obtained to carry one of NASA's highest-priority science instruments.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket stands on its launch pad in Florida, set to launch NASA's planet-hunting TESS probe.

Once in orbit, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess, will peer at hundreds of thousands of bright neighboring stars, seeking planets that might support life.