SpaceX is targeting launch of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on Wednesday, April 18 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The 30-second launch window opens at 6:51 p.m. EDT, or 22:51 UTC. TESS will be deployed into a highly elliptical orbit approximately 48 minutes after launch.
Two-stage SpaceX rocket “The Falcon 9” housing the TESS, a $337 million mission in search for Earth-like worlds, was loaded with super-chilled propellants on Wednesday and the 9 first stage booster engines were subjected to successful static fire test. A crest of exhaust was seen over the pad at Cape Canaveral, where hold-down clamps held the falcon firmly on the ground, the agency later revealed through a tweet that the test was complete.
”Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite” aka the TESS is to be launched on a SpaceX rocket by 6:51 p.m. EDT (22:51 UTC) Wednesday. TESS is the first NASA space exploration-satellite on a SpaceX rocket. TESS’s predecessor Kepler launched in 2009 showed us that exoplanets are totally common and that the galaxy is loaded with the same, but it just surveyed a relatively smaller area of the sky including the sections in Cygnus and Lyra star constellation. Around 70 percent of exoplanets currently known to men was discovered by Kepler, which is no longer running and out of fuel.
Unlike Kepler, TESS will survey around 85 percent of the sky for the slightest dip in the brightness of the light from our neighboring stars which can potentially be caused by a planet passing the star. TESS is equipped with four 16.8- megapixel sensor cameras that can cover 24-by-24 degrees field of vision and can sense the slightest dip in the brightness within a very wide coverage area making it possible for the satellite to survey the habitable zones of the stars in our neighborhood.
The satellite will be launched into an elliptic orbit 250k kilometers from earth with the rocket doing the major lifting and lunar gravity doing the rest. The spacecraft, after being deployed from the SpaceX rocket, will swing by the moon fuelled by lunar gravity as a slingshot to reach its operating orbit. The orbit takes TESS to revolve the planet once every two weeks.
TESS has been loaded with propellant and cocooned in an aerodynamic shell to protect it against friction during the initial stages of the launch. Since the static fire test successfully competes, it will be moved to pad 40 at cape carnival. The mission will use a newly-finished SpaceX workhorse “Block 4” version rocket. Post-launch testing will take around two months. Once TESS settles into the orbit, the observatory will search the skies for exoplanets for the next two years.
The stars TESS is going to survey is bright and close enough for detailed study using large ground satellites. And with the present technology, we can analyze the atmospheres of the planet candidates for any by-products of life. This mission might actually answer our biggest question: “are we alone?”.