Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology/TESS team

WASHINGTON — NASA has selected SpaceX to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in mid-2017, the U.S. space agency announced Dec. 17.

NASA will pay $87 million for the launch, which is slated to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in August 2017. NASA says the contract covers the launch service, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking data and telemetry, and other launch support requirements.

TESS, a spacecraft designed to search for extrasolar planets around the brightest stars in the sky, is being built by Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland is managing the mission, which NASA selected in April 2013 as part of its Explorers program of small astrophysics missions and  formally approved for development just last month.

Although SpaceX has made four cargo deliveries to the international space station under contract to NASA and is poised to make its fifth in January, the TESS contract marks only the second time NASA has tapped SpaceX to launch a science satellite.

In 2012, NASA Launch Services awarded SpaceX an $82 million contract to launch NOAA’s Jason-3 satellite. At the time of award, that launch was supposed to take place this month but has slipped into 2015.

Brian Berger is editor in chief of and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...