NASA Delays the Launch Of Their Planet Hunting TESS Spacecraft

Monday, 16 April 2018 - 6:49PM
Space
NASA
Monday, 16 April 2018 - 6:49PM
NASA Delays the Launch Of Their Planet Hunting TESS Spacecraft
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Twitter/NASA
Going against initial plans to launch their Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS for short) this evening by around 6:30 p.m. EST, NASA and SpaceX have now decided to postpone the launch until Wednesday, April 18. 

While it's troubling, NASA is adamant that nothing has gone catastrophically wrong or anything of the sort and that TESS "is in excellent health". But NASA is concerned enough that they want to run some more Guidance Navigation and Control analysis, a system aboard most NASA spacecrafts regarding all sorts of details in the plotting, adjusting, and executing of the spacecraft's travels.

Neither NASA nor SpaceX, who's lending a Falcon 9 rocket to fly TESS into orbit, went into much more detail about the reasons for the delay, which could mean it's simply some mundane checks which are being carried out to remain on the safe side.




The delay also seems to have been made fairly last minute, as the Falcon 9 rocket was already on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral today. It'll be a complicated launch - TESS' intended orbit around Earth is a tricky one, being highly elliptical and sending it even farther away than the Moon at its farthest points. It will complete a full rotation around Earth every 13.65 days.

When it finally goes up into space on Wednesday, TESS' job will be to find exoplanets, or planets orbiting around stars in other solar systems. It does this by looking for transit events, or dips in other stars' brightness that can be caused by a small planet passing in front of it. Between their small size and the extremely bright stars overshadowing them, it's difficult to find exoplanets simply by looking through telescopes alone.

Over the past couple of years, astronomers have become quite skilled at finding exoplanets. The closest one we know of is the planet Proxima b in our neighboring solar system of Proxima Centauri, but we've also found everything from large and small exoplanets to potentially habitable ones like those discovered  in the TRAPPIST-1 solar system

TESS will be scanning over 200,000 stars in the night sky for transit events using four wide-field cameras, and it's expected to find several thousand in its initial two-year mission. We won't be able to visit any of these planets (for now, at least), but there's a lot of value in studying them from afar.

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