SpaceX Fires Falcon 9’s Nine First Stage Engines at Cape Canaveral

Chilled liquid propellants were loaded into a 2-stage Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX’s launch team. They fired the rocket’s 9 Merlin 1D booster engines at the Complex 40 launch pad in Cape Canaveral. A cloud of exhaust was seen from nearby viewing points. According to SpaceX, the static fire test was successful. The activity was an important achievement in the run-up to launch NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, a mission that will study the sky to look for significant inclines in light from bright, adjacent stars.

TESS registered a fleeting, slight reduction in brightness, which could be a sign that a planet is passing in front of the star. It will be NASA’s second mission that is dedicated to discovering and classifying exoplanets. TESS will be the first space science satellite to take off on a SpaceX rocket. NASA’s Kepler observatory that was launched in March 2009 searched for planets around stars existing in the Lyra and Cygnus constellations and extended its survey to study other sections of the sky in the ecliptic plane or the fairly flat imaginary plane where the planets reside.

Kepler has discovered the existence of 2,652 exoplanets. 2,724 candidate discoveries must be observed first before astronomers announce those discoveries as real planets. Kepler has found out over 70% of all the known exoplanets at present. However, TESS will seek exoplanets across 85% of the sky, providing astronomers with a 3D investigation of planets residing in other solar systems. It will focus on bright stars that can be found in the same part of the Milky Way as the sun. TESS is equipped with 4 science cameras designed by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Each camera has a 16.8-megapixel sensor that covers a field of view of 24⁰ x 24⁰. It can detect faint dips in the brightness of stars and observe thousands of targets.

According to George Ricker, the principal investigator of the mission, the coverage of the cameras is unparalleled when it comes to the amount of sky it can actually observe at any given time. The cameras’ ability to cover a large portion of the sky is unprecedented as well. Ricker said that the kinds of targets that TESS will allow them to find will involve basically all the bright nearby stars.

Once deployed, TESS will fire thrusters to increase its orbit’s farthest arc to intercept the moon. The approximately 815-pound spacecraft will use lunar gravity to propel toward the operating orbit of the mission.