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Article by: Paul Brinkman
SpaceX delayed the launch of NASA’s TESS satellite Monday afternoon, tweeting that the company would be performing more analysis of the launch guidance, navigation and control. They are targeting Wednesday for another attempt.
Would-be launch watchers like the Wirtz family, of Maine, were disappointed but hoping to see the next attempt.
“TESS is one of the most amazing things happening in space and science right now,” said Dan Wirtz, a high school science teacher. He and his wife, son and father-in-law had camped out on the seventh floor of Port Canaveral’s Exploration Tower to watch.
Earlier Monday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk dropped some hints on Twitter about new efforts to explore recovery of the upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket — but that won’t be happening for the TESS launch. Still, Musk’s teaser about the second stage efforts provided some excitement, even with the scrub.
Weather looked decent for the launch midday; a very short launch window had been set to open at 6:30 p.m., on the heels of another Cape launch Saturday evening of satellites for the U.S. Air Force aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.
Re-using rocket components can make space exploration more affordable. The second stage makes up about 30 percent of a SpaceX launch cost. SpaceX has perfected reuse of the booster stage many times, but the upper stage proved more complicated.
Musk only referred to bringing the rocket section back from orbital velocity using a “giant party balloon” and then landing on a “bouncy house.” His tweets on a launch day set off a lot of curiosity.
While the company didn’t provide any further clarification immediately, Twitter followed up with a lot of speculation. The balloon might refer to something like NASA’s HIAD system (Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator), which is a heat shield that inflates upon reentry. The idea is to cut down on the weight that rigid metal or silica-ceramic shields require.
There’s also a ballute, a parachute-like technology that would ostensibly slow the rocket down. As for the bouncy house, an inflatable raft like a stunt bag might be part of the rocket landing.
On Sunday, SpaceX’s VP for Mission Assurance Hans Koenigsmann said the second stage of the rocket carrying TESS would not be recovered, and not de-orbited. But he said there is something new happening with the current mission — SpaceX will fire the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket to kick it out of orbit, so that it doesn’t become space trash in orbit.
TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is a telescope/camera that will hunt for undiscovered worlds around nearby stars, providing targets where future studies will assess their capacity to harbor life, NASA says.
With the help of a gravitational assist from the Moon, the spacecraft will settle into a 13.7-day orbit around Earth. Wednesday’s launch attempt is set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
NASA says the satellite will begin its initial two-year mission 60 days after launch, following tests of its instruments. Four wide-field cameras will give TESS a field-of-view that covers 85 percent of our entire sky.
The spacecraft will be looking for a phenomenon known as a transit, where a planet passes in front of its star, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star’s brightness. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft used the same method.
TESS is designed to concentrate on stars less than 300 light-years away and 30 to 100 times brighter than Kepler’s targets. It’s a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by Goddard.
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