SpaceX has launched the $337 million satellite that will carry on the mission of NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, to hunt for planets beyond our solar system in greater detail than ever before.The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) blasted away from Earth atop a Falcon 9 rocket on schedule at 6:51 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.'As you just saw, Falcon 9 has successfully cleared the pad and is now on its ascent with the TESS spacecraft in its fairing,' the announcers confirmed as the rocket climbed through the sky.Minutes after launch, SpaceX managed to successfully recover the Falcon 9's first stage by landing it on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ droneship in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 185 miles off the coast.The first stage could be seen descending toward the landing pad during the live feed, lining itself up almost perfectly with the white X before coming to a neat stop.The new ‘planet hunter,’ now on its way to begin what scientists have hailed a 'mission for the ages,' is equipped with four cameras that will allow it to view 85 percent of the entire sky, as it searches exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away.By studying objects much brighter than the Kepler targets, it’s hoped TESS could uncover new clues on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.Its launch was originally scheduled for April 16, but was scrubbed last minute due to a rocket control glitch.But, it took off today on time, with just a 30-second launch window to work with.Falcon 9's first stage successfully separated just less than 3 minutes after launch, followed by ignition of the second stage engine.About 42 minutes after launch, the second stage was reignited to set the spacecraft up for its deployment. Then, at about the 50-minute mark, it split off on its own.'As you can see there, we have had successful separation of the TESS spacecraft, and it’s going on - on its beautiful mission to look at thousands of planets outside of our solar system,' the SpaceX announcer said, wrapping up the webcast.Initially, TESS will settle into a 13.7 day orbit around Earth. After 60 days and a series of instruments tests, TESS will begin its two-year mission.The TESS spacecraft is equipped with four wide-field cameras to view the sky in 26 segments, each of which it will observe one by one.In its first year of operation, it will map the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky.Then, the following year, it will scour the northern sectors.‘One of the biggest questions in exoplanet exploration is: If an astronomer finds a planet in a star’s habitable zone, will it be interesting from a biologist’s point of view?’ said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.‘We expect TESS will discover a number of planets whose atmospheric compositions, which hold potential clues to the presence of life, could be precisely measured by future observers.’‘We learne
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