The commercial space company tweeted "all systems and weather are go for Falcon 9's launch" of TESS at 6:51 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40. In these images, astronomers will search for the slight changes in brightness that happen when a planet passes between its home star and TESS's lenses.
"One of the many awesome things that Kepler told us is that planets are everywhere and there are all kinds of planets out there", said Patricia "Padi" Boyd, director of the TESS guest investigator program at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center.
The mission builds on the legacy of NASA's Kepler space telescope, which examined a smaller area of the sky and confirmed the presence of thousands of planets and, by extension, hundreds of billions across the Milky Way. Webb is expected to look for "bio signatures", such as the presence of oxygen, on the planets TESS identifies.
With TESS, NASA is taking the next step in the search for planets outside of our solar system.
"With Kepler, we now know the planets exist, we have the size of the planets and in some cases, we have the masses", said Dr. Stephen Rinehart, a project scientist for the mission at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
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Satellite maker Orbital ATK's Robert Lockwood said he expects Tess to take exoplanet discovery to a whole new level.
TESS's launch was originally scheduled for yesterday, but was rescheduled for tonight after weather concerns put the safety of the launch into question.
"The stories of these planets will continue on, long after their detection", Martin Still, TESS program scientist, said on Wednesday. The spacecraft aims to add thousands of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, to the galactic map for future study.
TESS will also be the first NASA mission shot into space by one of the Falcon 9 reusable rockets.
SPACECRAFT: At 5 feet (1.5 meters), Tess is shorter than most adults and downright puny compared with most other spacecraft.