SpaceX launches NASA’s TESS spacecraft

SpaceX launches NASA's TESS spacecraft

April 18 (UPI) — SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched NASA’s next planet-hunter, TESS, on Wednesday evening and successfully landed on a platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket blasted off around 6:50 p.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite was supposed to be carried into space on Monday evening, but SpaceX postponed the launch. Engineers said they were standing down to conduct additional GNC analysis.” GNC stands for guidance, navigation and control.

“Final day launch postponement because someone did a last minute check of something and decided it needed another look is surprisingly common. Always better safe than sorry,” Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell wrote on Twitter.

NASA confirmed the updated launch target in an update to the TESS blog.

SpaceX landed the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage upright on the company’s floating drone ship in the Atlantic. It was the 24th successful landing of a first stage.

SpaceX also will attempt to salvage the nose cone, which protects the payload during liftoff. The cone is outfitted with a parachute and will be retrieved from the Atlantic by SpaceX officials.

The launch was broadcast live on NASA TV.

With the Kepler almost out of gas and soon to drop out of space, TESS will become NASA’s primary planet-hunter. Like Kepler, TESS will survey bright stars in search of periodic dimming patterns created when exoplanets and other planetary objects transit across the face of their host stars.

However, TESS will deploy a slightly different approach to planet-hunting. While the Kepler spacecraft focused on small fields of view for long periods of time, TESS will take a wider, more comprehensive view.

“TESS is designed to image almost all of the night sky — using four wide-angle cameras,” Natalia Guerrero, an MIT scientist and researcher on the TESS mission, told UPI last week.