Delayed launch of NASA’s next exoplanet hunter is now set for tonight

The TESS mission will rocket into one of the weirdest orbits ever

TESS satellite

READY TO FLY  NASA’s exoplanet hunting TESS satellite, shown in this artist’s illustration, is ready for  launch.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Editor’s note: This story has been updated April 18 with new launch plans for TESS.

The launch of NASA’s next exoplanet hunter, TESS, has been rescheduled for 6:51 p.m. EDT April 18. You can watch launch coverage on NASA TV starting at 6:30 p.m. 

SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket is set to carry TESS into space, had scrubbed the satellite’s planned April 16 just hours before liftoff, saying it needed to do more analysis of the rocket’s guidance, navigation and control systems. Such delays aren’t unusual, and Space X had reason to be cautious: The company has had a Falcon 9 blow up on the launchpad before.

TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, will be the first NASA science mission launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX plans for the rocket booster to return after launch and land on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

Once TESS is off the ground, it will take two months for the spacecraft to maneuver into an unusual, elongated orbit that slides between Earth and the moon. For every single orbit made by the moon, the spacecraft will orbit twice. That will create a gravitational balance that will stabilize TESS so it doesn’t need to use much fuel.

TESS’ mission is to find planets around some of the nearest and brightest stars, and other telescopes on Earth will then study those planets to understand them better.

STRANGE NEW WORLDS  NASA’s new exoplanet satellite is poised to launch its search for far off worlds. TESS, or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, will look at 85 percent of the sky in the next two years and could find thousands of exoplanets.

Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.

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