NASA has a new planet hunter in the heavens.
The agency's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched today (April 18) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, rising off the pad atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:51 p.m. EDT (2251 GMT) and deploying into Earth orbit 49 minutes later.
TESS will hunt for alien worlds around stars in the sun's neighborhood — planets that other missions can then study in detail. And the spacecraft will be incredibly prolific, if all goes according to plan. [NASA's TESS Exoplanet-Hunting Mission in Pictures]
"TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study," TESS principal investigator George Ricker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said during a pre-launch briefing Sunday (April 15).