SpaceX delays NASA's planet-hunting spacecraft launch

SpaceX Falcon 9 targeting TESS spacecraft launch Wednesday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The SpaceX launch of NASA's planet hunting spacecraft has been delayed to at least Wednesday, according to SpaceX officials.

The commercial space company was set to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS, on Monday at 6:32 p.m. from Cape Canaveral, but the countdown clock stopped about three hours before the launch window and SpaceX later confirmed the delay.

"Standing down today to conduct additional GNC analysis, and teams are now working towards a targeted launch of NASA TESS on Wednesday, April 18," SpaceX tweeted.

GNC stands for the guidance navigational control system, the software that controls the guidance systems that steer the rocket and make sure it stays stable.

If SpaceX is ready to launch the Falcon 9 Wednesday the new liftoff time is 6:51 p.m.

"The TESS spacecraft is in excellent health, and remains ready for launch," according to NASA officials.

Weather on Wednesday is near perfect, according to Air Force Weather officials, with less than a 10 percent chance of causing a delay.

After the launch, SpaceX will land its rocket's first stage core on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

TESS, an MIT-led mission, is expected to discover thousands of Earth-size planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The spacecraft will scan almost the entire sky searching for planets transiting, or passing, in front of their stars.

The mission will build on NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which is coming to an end as the probe runs out of fuel. TESS will scan an area 350 times greater than Kepler.

Planet hunting has exploded in the last 23 years since the first exoplanet discovery of 51 Pegasi b. After Kepler’s 2009 launch the spacecraft started finding multiplanet systems and lone exoplanets orbiting stars. To date, Kepler and its team have found more than 2,600 confirmed exoplanets.

[Follow updates from News 6 on launch day at the bottom of this story from Kennedy Space Center]

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was moved into the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on April 12, 2018 at Kennedy Space Center to be enclosed in the SpaceX Falcon 9’s nose cone. Photo credit: NASA
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was moved into the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on April 12, 2018 at Kennedy Space Center to be enclosed in the SpaceX Falcon 9’s nose cone. Photo credit: NASA

Dr. Daniel Batcheldor, who leads the physics and space sciences department at the Florida Institute of Technology, said the astronomy community long suspected we weren't the only system with planets orbiting its star.

"Why would our solar system be unique?" Batcheldor said. "We’ve been holding our breath, we’ve known for hundreds of years, because of Kepler we know there are billions of planets around stars."

Kepler confirmed that complex planetary systems, like ours, are also common.

Batcheldor said now it's just a question of finding out how interesting these planets are and if they can support life. Kepler and TESS have a different, but similar approach, to do that.

The Kepler spacecraft stared at one patch of sky, looking at hundreds of thousands of stars for a slight wink when a planet passes in front of the star.

TESS will look at the nearest and brightest stars in the whole sky while it's in a high elliptical  orbit of Earth.

When NASA launches its James Webb Space Telescope in 2020 the two missions will work together to tell us more about these new worlds.

TESS will tell James Webb what to look at, and the powerful telescope can look for the planets' atmosphere traces.

When a planet passes in front of the star, the star's light passes through the planet's atmosphere, using transit spectroscopy, the infrared telescope will look at the characteristics of that light to determine if there are life-supporting elements, including water.

The data from TESS will influence future missions to come.

"TESS will show us where we need to point the next spacecraft," Batcheldor said.

Check back to watch the launch live at ClickOrlando.com/space.


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