WASHINGTON — NASA announced Nov. 7 that it has given approval for development to proceed of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a spacecraft to search for extrasolar planets around the brightest stars in the sky.

TESS passed a confirmation review, project officials said, which allows the mission to move into the development phase. NASA selected TESS as part of its Explorer program of small astrophysics missions in April 2013.

“After spending the past year building the team and honing the design, it is incredibly exciting to be approved to move forward toward implementing NASA’s newest exoplanet hunting mission,” Jeff Volosin, TESS program manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement announcing the successful review.

The mission, scheduled for launch in 2017, will place a spacecraft built by Orbital Sciences Corp. into a high Earth orbit. The spacecraft’s cameras will look for small, periodic variations in the brightness of stars caused by planets passing in front of the star, a technique also used by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.

TESS will monitor the brightness of more than 500,000 stars during its planned two-year mission. Scientists anticipate the mission will discover more than 5,000 potential exoplanets, including 50 the size of Earth.

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Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established spacetoday.net to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...