SpaceX postpones launch of Nasa's planet-hunter spacecraft

Lena Tucker
April 18, 2018

On Monday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch NASA's alien planet-hunting telescope TESS to orbit.

The spacecraft will scan over 200,000 stars to find small worlds in our interstellar neighborhood, a few of which could be Earth- or Super-Earth-sized.

"S will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars", Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director, said in a statement.

"It was created to look at 150,000 stars in a fairly wide field of view without blinking, for four years", she told reporters on the eve of the launch.

TESS will create a catalog of thousands of exoplanet candidates using this transit photometry method.

Set for launch in 2028, ARIEL - with the location of thousands of exoplanets discovered by TESS - will be able to "sniff" their atmospheres to determine their chemical composition and answer the question: how do planetary systems form and evolve? This will reveal whether the planets are rocky (like Earth), gas giants (like Jupiter) or something even more unusual.

The interest will be in whether they are orbiting at a distance from their host star that allows for liquid water - a prerequisite for life.

In 24 months, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess) should have sampled 85 percent of the heavens, taking in some 500,000 stars - many of which will be among the nearest and brightest in the sky. Within this vast visual perspective, the sky has been divided into 26 sectors that Tess will observe one by one.

JOB: Tess will scan nearly the entire sky during its $337 million mission, staring at hundreds of thousands, even millions of small, faint red dwarf stars.

"Tess will tell us where and when to point", said Cheops' Esa project scientist, Kate Isaak.

Bill Chaplin is an astroseismologist from Birmingham University, UK.

"We can measure the stars' fundamental properties".

The launch was originally scheduled for 6:32 p.m. Monday.

ORBIT: Tess will aim for a unique elongated orbit that passes within 45,000 miles of Earth on one end and as far away as the orbit of the moon on the other end.

"We're trying to summarize all of these lessons learned into a booster that then is able to fly and be recovered and fly again multiple times without a lot of refurbishment", said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX.

After TESS launches, the team expects that the satellite will reestablish contact within the first week, during which it will turn on all its instruments and cameras. Every time he approaches Earth, he will send scientists the information he has collected in the meantime.

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