The National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched its planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Wednesday.

The telescope, launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, is expected to find thousands of new exoplanets – planets circling nearby stars – including those that could support life over a two-year mission costing the space agency $337 million (Rs 2,218 crore).

“We are thrilled TESS is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbour life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With missions like the James Webb Space Telescope to help us study the details of these planets, we are ever the closer to discovering whether we are alone in the universe.”

TESS will use six thruster burns to progressively elongate its orbits to reach the moon, which will give it a gravitational assist. After 60 days of testing, the spacecraft will begin its work.

A two-year survey mission, TESS will take over from its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered around 3,700 such exoplanets over the past 20 years, but is now running out of fuel, Reuters reported. It will use four cameras and focus on 2,00,000 pre-selected stars that are nearby and among the brightest as seen from Earth.