New NASA spacecraft, to be launched tonight, could find thousands of new worlds soon

Business Insider US

An illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite in space.

  • NASA's new planet-hunting telescope is scheduled to launch on Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket.
  • The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) may find thousands of worlds relatively close to Earth.
  • Scientists hope to discover about 50 small, rocky planets that may be habitable to alien life.

NASA's newest planet-hunting telescope is set to launch into orbit on Monday aboard a rocket built by Elon Musk's aerospace company, SpaceX.

The new spacecraft is called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS.

Scientists who planned the mission say they could discover thousands of new worlds within 24 months — including 50 Earth-size planets that might be habitable to aliens.

TESS is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, after midnight on Monday (South African time), aboard a 70-metre Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX will try to recover the rocket's 16-story booster in a bid to save millions of dollars.

"TESS will discover new potential planets orbiting bright host stars relatively close to Earth," SpaceX said in a press release. "In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will search for tell-tale dips in the brightness of stars that indicate an orbiting planet regularly transiting across the face of its star."

If there's any bad weather, technical glitches, or other problems, SpaceX may delay the launch to midnight on Tuesday.

We've provided two ways below to watch the telescope launch into space, so bookmark this page.

And don't miss our in-depth coverage of TESS, how the telescope works, and why the mission could lead to groundbreaking discoveries in the search for habitable planets.

SpaceX on YouTube

SpaceX will broadcast live footage of TESS's launch, and you can watch that YouTube stream below.

After years of webcasting rocket launches, SpaceX recently earned the government's scrutiny for the practice — likely due to the jaw-dropping views (and incredible popularity) of its "Starman" video feed in February.

That footage showed Musk's red Tesla Roadster flying around Earth with a spacesuit-clad dummy in the driver seat. (The vehicle was launched by Falcon Heavy, which is the world's most powerful operational rocket.)

"There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity," Musk said in March. "That is why we did it. We did it for you."

But soon afterward, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told SpaceX there's a government restriction that requires a license to show views of Earth from space. SpaceX is applying for a full license — but there shouldn't be any issues with watching TESS online, since it's a NASA-funded spacecraft.

"There is no such restriction on government missions," a SpaceX representative told Business Insider in an email.

NASA on Ustream

NASA TV and NASA Live will begin showing extensive coverage of the launch starting at around midnight on Monday.

You can tune in on the space agency's Ustream channel or simply watch the embedded player below.

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