NASA’s TESS Probe to Discover New Earth-like Habitable Exoplanets Soars to Orbit on SpaceX Falcon 9

NASA’s next
planet-hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), successfully
launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 on April 18, 2018. TESS will search for new
worlds outside our solar system for further study.
  Credit: Ken Kremer/

Ken Kremer     18 April 2018

CENTER, FL – NASA’s powerful TESS probe aiming to discover new Earth-like
habitable worlds soared to space this evening, Apr. 18 under a crystal clear
sky from Florida’s Spaceport.

which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, blasted off on a SpaceX
Falcon 9 rocket at 6:51 p.m. EDT Wednesday, April 18 from seaside Space Launch
Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

DT Wednesday, April 18 from seaside
Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The beautiful
sunset blastoff too space took place precisely at the opening of the mere 30
second launch window and was visible for several minutes as it arced over.
TESS eventually disappeared
into the haze, but not before thrilling spectators gathered from near and far.

The launch had
been postponed from Monday after it scrubbed due to problems with the Falcon 9
rockets Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) system. SpaceX and NASA then rescheduled
the launch for this evening Wednesday, after technicians and engineers resolved
the issues and repaired. 

The fixed Falcon 9 performed flawlessly during all phases
of flight, from launch to acceleration to orbit, and final spacecraft separation
some 49 minutes into flight.

At 7:53 p.m., the twin life giving solar arrays
that will power the spacecraft successfully deployed.

“NASA’s TESS launched on the first-of-its-kind
mission to find worlds beyond our solar system, including some that could
support life,” said NASA.

expected to find thousands of new exoplanets orbiting nearby stars.

Over the course of several weeks, TESS will use
six thruster burns to travel in a series of progressively elongated orbits to
reach the Moon, which will provide a gravitational assist so that TESS can
transfer into its 13.7-day final science orbit around Earth. After
approximately 60 days of check-out and instrument testing, the spacecraft will
begin its work.

“One critical piece for the science return of
TESS is the high data rate associated with its orbit,” said George Ricker, TESS
principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT)
Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge. “Each time
the spacecraft passes close to Earth, it will transmit full-frame images taken
with the cameras. That’s one of the unique things TESS brings that was not
possible before.”
For this two-year survey mission, scientists
divided the sky into 26 sectors. TESS will use four unique wide-field cameras
to map 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky during its first year of
observations and 13 sectors of the northern sky during the second year,
altogether covering 85 percent of the sky.

TESS will be watching for phenomena called transits.
A transit occurs when a planet passes in front of its star from the observer’s
perspective, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star’s brightness. More
than 78 percent of the approximately 3,700 confirmed exoplanets have been found
using transits.
NASA’s Kepler
spacecraft found more than 2,600 exoplanets, most orbiting faint stars between
300 and 3,000 light-years from Earth, using this same method of watching for
transits. TESS will focus on stars between 30 and 300 light-years away and 30
to 100 times brighter than Kepler’s targets.
The brightness of these target stars will allow
researchers to use spectroscopy,
the study of the absorption and emission of light, to determine a planet’s
mass, density and atmospheric composition. Water, and other key molecules, in
its atmosphere can give us hints about a planets’ capacity to harbor life.
“The targets TESS finds are going to be
fantastic subjects for research for decades to come,” said Stephen Rinehart,
TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
Maryland. “It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”
Through the TESS Guest
Investigator Program
, the worldwide scientific community will be
able to conduct research beyond TESS’s core mission in areas ranging from
exoplanet characterization to stellar astrophysics, distant galaxies and solar
system science.
Astrophysics Explorer
mission led and operated by MIT and managed by
Goddard. George Ricker, of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space
Research, serves as principal investigator for the mission. TESS’s four
wide-field cameras were developed by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. Additional
partners include Orbital ATK, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science
Institute. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and
observatories worldwide are participants in the

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA’s TESS,
SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more
space and mission
reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing
Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: – –
twitter @ken_kremer –

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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