A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Wednesday carrying SpaceX’s first high-priority science mission for NASA, a planet-hunting space telescope whose launch had been delayed for two days by a rocket-guidance glitch.
The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:51 p.m. EDT, starting the clock on a two-year quest to detect more worlds circling stars beyond our solar system that might harbor life.
The main-stage booster successfully separated from the upper stage of the rocket and headed back to Earth on a self-guided return flight to an unmanned landing vessel floating in the Atlantic.
The first stage, which can be recycled for future flights, then landed safely on the ocean platform, according to SpaceX launch team announcers on NASA TV.
Liftoff followed a postponement forced by a technical glitch in the rocket’s guidance-control system.