The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, is scheduled for liftoff at 6:32 p.m. with a 30-second launch window.
The mission will produce a huge catalog of exoplanets "with the hope that someday in the next decades we'll be able to identify the potential for life to exist outside the solar system", said Jeff Volosin, the mission's project manager from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
The spacecraft will be looking for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star's brightness. Using the moon's gravity to keep it stable, TESS will circle around our planet in a 2:1 lunar-resonant orbit, which means it zips around Earth twice for every single moon orbit.
The satellite is about the size of a refrigerator and comes with solar-panel wings and four special cameras. It will send TESS into a high-elliptical orbit around our planet, like that of the Moon.
A total of 2 lakh stars have been pre-selected as being relatively nearby, for TESS to scan with some stars being only dozens of light years away from Earth.
The satellite had been scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Monday evening. And that is the task - TESS is to detect planets - more specifically exoplanets.
"There's technical astrophysical issues that will interest a lot of the scientists in the community", Harvard astronomer David Latham tells Tasoff, "but I think that the question that is going to catch the attention of the educated public is this big one: Are we alone?".
To carry out its mission, TESS needs to reach a particular orbit. "We're on this scenic tour of the whole sky, and in some ways we have no idea what we will see".
In addition to its search for exoplanets, TESS will allow scientists from the wider community to request targets for astrophysics research on approximately 20,000 additional objects during the mission through its Guest Investigator programme. TESS's mission is different. We can say how massive they are and how old they are. The backup if that happens is to launch the following day.
NASA's Pleiades, an incredibly powerful supercomputer, will be able to keep up and process the 10 billion pixels over three to five days. After that, scientists will provide deeper research with better equipment, etc. This could be how planets that support life are found. To find out whether the planet is likely to be rocky like Earth, astronomers will have to follow up with large, ground-based telescopes, which can gauge the planet's mass by measuring its gravitational pull on its parent star. "So it's got to be there somewhere".