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Watch SpaceX Loft NASA's New Planet-Hunting Mission Into Orbit

Watch SpaceX Loft NASA's New Planet-Hunting Mission Into Orbit
From Wired - April 16, 2018

NASAs newest galactic scout is ready for duty. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (dubbed TESS for short) is set to embark on a two-year mission to scour our cosmic neighborhood for potentially habitable worlds. But first, itll need a boost from SpaceX.

Exhaust plumes billowed around Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral last Wednesday as SpaceX successfully test-fired its Falcon 9 rocket. Today, if all goes as planned, it will roar to life at 6:32 pm EDT, lofting the refrigerator-sized TESS spacecraft into orbit.

The Falcon 9 used for this flight will sport a brand new first stage boosterthe final block 4 version before the upgraded block 5 version rolls out next month, which will sport upgraded engines and enhancements that will ease reusability. Once the first stage has done its job, it will return to Earth, where a drone ship will be waiting in the Atlantic Ocean to catch it.

The TESS satellite will survey the sky in search of small dips in the light emanating from nearby stars. Those dips are telltale signs that a planet could be passing in front of its parent staran event astronomers call a transit.

TESSs predecessor, the Kepler Space Telescope, also used the transit method to become the most prolific planet-hunter in history. In the course of its mission, it identified thousands of candidate planets beyond our solar system. Astronomers have validated 2,600 of its observations, and thousands more are awaiting confirmation. But mission scientists expect TESS to find even more exoplanets, by surveying a patch of sky hundreds of times larger than the one eyed by Kepler.

To carry out its mission, TESS needs to reach a particular orbit. With the help of the Falcon 9, the spacecraft will be able to intercept the moon and use lunar gravity to reach its stable, operating orbit. The spacecraft will revolve around the Earth every two weeks, in a 2:1 resonance with our planets natural satellite; for every orbit the moon makes, the spacecraft will complete two.

Up, Up, and Away

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