Watch SpaceX launch an observatory to hunt alien planets

SpaceX to launch NASA spacecraft to look for alien planets

The second step, involving the launch of a space telescope is to take place in 2020.

"The Moon and the satellite are in a sort of dance", Joel Villasenor, instrument scientist for TESS at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

The BBC understands that scientists on the mission also want a delay so they can run some extra checks on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite itself.

NASA's next exoplanet-hunting telescope is preparing for launch. In the nine years that the now-aging Kepler has been aloft, it has detected 2,343 confirmed exoplanets, as well as another 2,244 candidate planets that need further study. The famous Golden Record mounted on both Voyager spacecraft contained a pulsar map that points any aliens who one day encounter it back to planet Earth. It was proposed two years later as an important NASA mission and eventually approved in 2013.

This will ensure that TESS reaches apogee with the moon at a phasing of 90 degrees, allowing its orbit to remain stable for at least 10 years. Of these, approximately 300 are expected to be between the size of the Earth and double the size of the Earth.

"TESS forms a bridge from what we have learned about exoplanets to date and where we are headed in the future", said Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager at Nasa's Goddard Spaceflight Center.

When Tess does get up, it will stare at stars for weeks at a time, hoping to catch the dips in brightness that occur when orbiting worlds traverse their faces.

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TESS will use the same transit method Kepler used to find planets.

The mission of TESS will be to scan more than 200,000 of the brightest stars, beyond our solar system, in search of exoplanets in their orbit.

Scientists are putting a lot of faith in the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which serves as a sort of precursor to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, heading into orbit next spring.

After all, Kepler was limited by the hardware on board, meaning it could only observe a small fraction of what was out there, with numerous stars too faint to detect the surrounding planets with great accuracy. If his ballon-stunt works (it's probably not a real party balloon, but since it's Musk we're talking about here, who knows), SpaceX would have become capable of recovering almost the entire assembly. Astronomers anticipate that it will discover dozens of Earth-size planets. "We're on this scenic tour of the whole sky, and in some ways we have no idea what we will see".

"I don't think we know everything TESS is going to accomplish", Rinehart added.

But the needle in the haystack, the Holy Grail, will be finding planets in what's called the Goldilocks zone, orbiting just far enough from their parent stars where it's not too hot or too cold but just right to possibly sustain life.

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