NASA launches planet-hunting TESS spacecraft from Cape Canaveral

Lloyd Doyle
April 17, 2018

The @NASA_TESS spacecraft is in excellent health and remains ready for launch on the new targeted date of Wednesday, April 18.

TESS will overview much more grandiose territory than its forerunner, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which propelled in 2009, taking in approximately 85 percent of the skies.

NASA and SpaceX say they'll take more time to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey System, or TESS, just to make sure the $337 million mission will be on the right track to hunt for planets beyond our solar system.

Shortly before NASA's social media announcement, the SpaceX launch team tweeted that they were standing down and that the TESS launch had been put off until tomorrow.

If all goes according to plan, NASA's new Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, will launch today at 8:32AM AEST from Cape Canaveral. TESS will be deployed into a highly elliptical orbit approximately 48 minutes after launch.

Another of the missions to follow up Tess data will be the Swiss-led, European Space Agency (Esa) project called Cheops (CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite).

NASA's planet-hunting pioneer, the Kepler Space Telescope, has spent the past nine years focusing on considerably fainter, more distant stars and discovered almost three-quarters of the 3,700-plus exoplanets confirmed to date. Sixty days after launch, and following tests of its instruments, the satellite will begin its initial two-year mission.

SpaceX hasn't provided my additional details regarding the delay of the launch, but we know that "GNC" means "guidance, navigation and control", so it sounds like it was a pretty serious issue.

Mission planners have designed a novel orbit that will see Tess corralled by the gravity of the Moon.

"TESS's legacy will be a catalog of the nearest and brightest stars hosting transiting exoplanets, which will comprise the most favorable targets for detailed investigations in the coming decades", NASA notes. The mission will focus on planets circling bright stars that are less than 300 light-years from Earth.

"TESS is going to dramatically increase the number of planets that we have to study", said Mr Ricker.

Many of TESS's planets should be close enough to our own that, once they are identified by TESS, scientists can zoom in on them using other telescopes, to detect atmospheres, characterise atmospheric conditions, and even look for signs of habitability. "Kepler was a statistical survey that looked at a small patch of sky for four years and taught us that Earths are everywhere".

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