(UPDATE: This launch was scrubbed on Monday, and is currently targeted for Wednesday, April 18 at 6:51 EDT. At a NASA social event for TESS on April 15, SpaceX Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said there is, in fact, a launch opportunity for TESS every day through April 26.)
by Chris Tobias
This Monday, April 16, SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch, which is scheduled to lift off at 6:32 pm EDT (22:32 UTC), will feature a brand new Falcon 9 booster rocket that has never flown before. Unlike some of the more recent SpaceX missions, there are plans to recover the first stage of this Falcon 9 at sea aboard SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. If that recovery is successful, this particular Falcon 9 will be reused for the CRS-15 Dragon resupply mission to the International Space Station this summer.
This current mission is generating some buzz because of its payload. SpaceX is sending a NASA satellite into orbit that is known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. The satellite is designed to conduct a two-year survey during which it will use an array of telescopes to monitor over 200,000 stars in “neighboring solar systems” (less than 300 light years away) in order to detect and identify planets ranging in size from roughly the size of the Earth to gas giants, with a particular interest in identifying Earth-like exoplanets that could one day (or perhaps once did or even already do) support life.
There is a 30-second launch window for tomorrow’s launch, but there is the possibility of launching on Tuesday if Monday’s launch has to be scrubbed. If SpaceX misses that back-up window, then they’ll have to wait until the moon comes around again. This is because once the satellite is deployed it needs the help of a perfectly-timed gravitational assist from the moon in order to put it into a highly eccentric orbit that will bring it close to Earth approximately once every two weeks. At present, the weather is 80% GO for an April 16 launch, and 90% GO for a Tuesday backup launch if necessary.
Peace, love and rockets…