NASA

SpaceX Flies Satellites For Iridium, NASA In 10th Launch of 2018 (bloomberg.com) 22

SpaceX launched a total of seven satellites for Iridium and NASA, reusing part of a previously flown rocket for its 10th mission of 2018. "Five Iridium NEXT satellites were launched as part of the company's campaign to replace the world's largest commercial satellite network," reports Bloomberg. "SpaceX's mission also includes launching twin satellites for the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO)," which will "measure the distribution of the Earth's mass" and "monitor changes in ice sheets, glaciers and sea level." From the report: The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's central coast about 12:47 p.m. local time. The GRACE-FO satellites deployed roughly 11 minutes after launch, while the Iridium satellites are due to be released roughly an hour after the launch. SpaceX won't attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket, which flew in January during the Zuma mission, according to a SpaceX press kit. CBS News has some additional details about the GRACE-FO satellites. They were reportedly "designed to fly in tandem 137 miles apart in a 305-mile orbit around Earth's poles," reports CBS News. "Using a microwave tracking system, the distance between the two 1,300-pound satellites can be measured to within the diameter of a red blood cell. By precisely measuring the distance between the satellites, scientists can determine how much mass is below the flight path and then calculate the contribution of water, creating global maps every 30 days."

UPDATE: SpaceX has confirmed that all five Iridium satellites have been successfully deployed.
Space

German Test Reveals That Magnetic Fields Are Pushing the EM Drive (arstechnica.com) 260

"Researchers in Germany have performed an independent, controlled test of the infamous EM Drive with an unprecedented level of precision," writes PvtVoid. "The result? The thrust is coming from interactions with the Earth's magnetic field." From the report: Instead of getting ahold of someone else's EM drive, or Mach-effect device, the researchers created their own, along with the driving electronics. The researchers used precision machining and polishing to obtain a microwave cavity that was much better than those previously published. If anything was going to work, this would be the one. The researchers built up a very nice driving circuit that was capable of supplying 50W of power to the cavity. However, the amplifier mountings still needed to be worked on. So, to keep thermal management problems under control, they limited themselves to a couple of Watts in the current tests. The researchers also inserted an enormous attenuator. This meant that they could, without physically changing the setup, switch on all the electronics and have the amplifiers working at full noise, and all the power would either go to the EM drive or be absorbed in the attenuator. That gives them much more freedom to determine if the thrust was coming from the drive or not.

Even with a power of just a couple of Watts, the EM-drive generates thrust in the expected direction (e.g., the torsion bar twists in the right direction). If you reverse the direction of the thruster, the balance swings back the other way: the thrust is reversed. Unfortunately, the EM drive also generates the thrust when the thruster is directed so that it cannot produce a torque on the balance (e.g., the null test also produces thrust). And likewise, that "thrust" reverses when you reverse the direction of the thruster. The best part is that the results are the same when the attenuator is put into the circuit. In this case, there is basically no radiation in the microwave cavity, yet the WTF-thruster thrusts on. So, where does the force come from? The Earth's magnetic field, most likely. The cables that carry the current to the microwave amplifier run along the arm of the torsion bar. Although the cable is shielded, it is not perfect (because the researchers did not have enough mu metal). The current in the cable experiences a force due to the Earth's magnetic field that is precisely perpendicular to the torsion bar. And, depending on the orientation of the thruster, the direction of the current will reverse and the force will reverse.
The researchers' conclude by saying: "At least, SpaceDrive [the name of the test setup] is an excellent educational project by developing highly demanding test setups, evaluating theoretical models and possible experimental errors. It's a great learning experience with the possibility to find something that can drive space exploration into its next generation."
ISS

NASA's Atomic Fridge Will Make the ISS the Coldest Known Place in the Universe (vice.com) 98

An anonymous reader shares a report: Later this year, a small part of the International Space Station will become 10 billion times colder than the average temperature of the vacuum of space thanks to the Cold Atom Lab (CAL). Once it's on the space station, this atomic fridge will be the coldest known place in the universe and will allow physicists to 'see' into the quantum realm in a way that would never be possible on Earth.

In a normal room, "atoms are bouncing off one another in all directions at a few hundred meters per second," Rob Thompson, a NASA scientist working on CAL explained in a statement. CAL, however, can reach temperatures that are just one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero -- the point at which matter loses all its thermal energy -- which means that this chaotic atomic motion comes to a near standstill.

CAL uses magnetic fields and lasers traps to capture the gaseous atoms and cool them to nearly absolute zero. Since all the atoms have the same energy levels at that point, these effectively motionless atoms condense into a state of quantum matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate. This state of matter means that the atoms have the properties of one continuous wave rather discrete particles.

Earth

NASA Says Humans Are Causing Massive Changes In Location of Water Around the World (desertsun.com) 99

Using measurements from Earth-observing satellites, NASA scientists have found that humans have dramatically altered the location of water around the world. "The team of researchers analyzed 14 years of data from NASA's twin GRACE satellites and studied regions that have seen large increases or decreases in the total amount of freshwater, including water in lakes and rivers and water stored in underground aquifers, soil, snow and ice," reports The Desert Sun. From the report: The scientists examined precipitation trends and other data to determine the most likely causes of these huge losses and gains of water around the world. Their findings in a new study reveal that of the 34 "hotspots" of water change in places from California to China, the trends in about two-thirds of those areas may be linked to climate change or human activities, such as excessive groundwater pumping in farming regions. In eight of the 34 regions, the researchers said the trends reflect "possible" or "probable" impacts of climate change, including losses of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, precipitation increases in the high latitudes of Eurasia and North America, the retreat of Alaska's glaciers and melting ice fields in Patagonia.

They ascribed changes in 12 regions to natural variability, including a progression from a dry period to a wet period in the northern Great Plains, a drought in eastern Brazil and wetter periods in the Amazon and tropical West Africa. In 14 of the areas -- more than 40 percent of the hotspots -- the scientists associated the water shifts partially or largely with human activity. That included groundwater depletion combined with drought in Southern California and the southern High Plains from Kansas to the Texas Panhandle, as well as in the northern Middle East, northern Africa, southern Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
The first-of-its-kind study has been published in the journal Nature.
NASA

Moon of Jupiter Prime Candidate For Alien Life After Water Blast Found (theguardian.com) 133

A NASA probe that explored Jupiter's moon Europa flew through a giant plume of water vapour that erupted from the icy surface and reached a hundred miles high, according to a fresh analysis of the spacecraft's data. An anonymous reader shares a The Guardian report: The discovery has cemented the view among some scientists that the Jovian moon, one of four first spotted by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610, is the most promising place in the solar system to hunt for alien life. If such geysers are common on Europa, NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) missions that are already in the pipeline could fly through and look for signs of life in the brine, which comes from a vast subsurface ocean containing twice as much water as all the oceans on Earth.

NASA's Galileo spacecraft spent eight years in orbit around Jupiter and made its closest pass over Europa, a moon about the size of our own, on 16 December 1997. As the probe dropped beneath an altitude of 250 miles, its sensors twitched with unexpected signals that scientists were unable to explain at the time. Now, in a new study, the researchers describe how they went back to the Galileo data after grainy images beamed home from the Hubble space telescope in 2016 showed what appeared to be plumes of water blasting from Europa's surface.

NASA

NASA Will Send Helicopter To Mars To Test Otherworldly Flight (bbc.com) 103

NASA is sending a small, autonomous rotorcraft to Mars via the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. NASA says the goal of the mission is to "demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet." BBC reports: Its design team spent more than four years shrinking a working helicopter to "the size of a softball" and cutting its weight to 1.8kg (4lbs). It is specifically designed to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's. NASA describes the helicopter as a "heavier-than-air" aircraft because the other type -- sometimes called an aerostat -- refers to aircraft like balloons and blimps. The helicopter's two blades will spin at close to 3,000 revolutions a minute, which NASA says is about 10 times faster than a standard helicopter on Earth.
Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite With New Upgraded 'Block 5' Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 85

Thelasko shares a report from The Verge: This afternoon, SpaceX landed the most powerful version yet of its Falcon 9 rocket, after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The so-named Block 5 upgrade took off from the company's launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, sending a communications satellite into orbit for Bangladesh and then touched down on one of the company's drone ships in the Atlantic. It was the 25th successful rocket landing for SpaceX, and the 14th on one of the company's drone ships.

It also marks the first launch of the Block 5, the vehicle that will carry humans to space for NASA. The Block 5 is meant to be SpaceX's most reusable rocket yet, with many upgrades put in place that negate the need for extensive refurbishment between flights. In fact, the first Block 5 rockets will eventually be able to fly up to 10 times without the need for any maintenance after landings, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a pre-launch press conference. Ideally, once one of these rocket lands, SpaceX will turn it horizontal, attach a new upper stage and nose cone on top, turn it vertical on the launchpad, fill it with propellant, and then launch it again. Musk noted that the vehicles would need some kind of moderate maintenance after the 10-flight mark, but it's possible that each rocket could fly up to 100 times in total.

Space

Earth's 'Bigger, Older Cousin' Maybe Doesn't Even Exist (npr.org) 52

Ever since astronomers started to detect planets beyond our solar system, they've been trying to find another world just like Earth. And few years ago, they announced that they'd found a planet that was the closest match yet -- Kepler-452b. Trouble is, some astronomers now say it's not possible to know for sure that this planet actually exists. From a report: "There's new information that we can now quantify which tells us something that we didn't know before," says Fergal Mullally, who used to be an astronomer on the science team for NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. In 2015, NASA declared that Kepler-452b was the first near-Earth-sized planet orbiting in the "habitable" zone around a star very similar to our sun. The space agency called it Earth's "bigger, older cousin," and scientists were so enthusiastic that one began quoting poetry at a news conference. The original science wasn't shoddy, Mullally says. It's just that, since then, researchers have learned more about the telescope's imperfections.
Software

'Father of GPS' Receives the IEEE Medal of Honor (eetimes.com) 22

"A former paperboy from Wisconsin passionate about maps led the team in the Air Force responsible for designing the navigation system we use everyday," writes Slashdot reader dkatana. IoT Times reports: At the IEEE honors ceremony today in San Francisco, Bradford Parkinson, a retired Air Force colonel who spent his life between maps and navigation systems, will be awarded the 2018 IEEE Medal of Honor, "For fundamental contributions to and leadership in developing the design and driving the early applications of the Global Positioning System." The current Global Positioning System (GPS) did not exist until 1995, just 22 years ago, and the engineer who led the project for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) was Mr. Parkinson.

Parkinson, whose first job was delivering newspapers, had a passion for maps. He used those maps when canoeing to navigate the lakes and streams of Minnesota, aided by a hand compass. When he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, he joined the Air Force to study navigation systems. In 1960, when his superiors saw his engineering potential, they sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue graduate studies. He became a protegee of Charles Stark (Doc) Draper, the father of inertial navigation, who was teaching at MIT at the time. Draper was the lead engineer developing the computer systems for NASA's Apollo program. [...] It was in 1972 when his path on inertial navigation collided with satellite systems. He had been recently promoted to colonel when he received a call from another colonel who was part of the Air Force inertial guidance "mafia." He moved to Los Angeles and joined the group, a bunch of Air Force engineers from MIT. Then Parkinson asked to work on the Air Force 621B program, the genesis of GPS.

Government

Trump White House Quietly Cancels NASA Research Verifying Greenhouse Gas Cuts (sciencemag.org) 289

Paul Voosen, reporting for Science magazine: You can't manage what you don't measure. The adage is especially relevant for climate-warming greenhouse gases, which are crucial to manage -- and challenging to measure. In recent years, though, satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet's flows of carbon. Now, President Donald Trump's administration has quietly killed the CMS, Science has learned.

The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. "If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," she says. Canceling the CMS "is a grave mistake," she adds.

NASA

Congress Is Quietly Nudging NASA To Look for Aliens (theatlantic.com) 113

An anonymous reader shares a report: The search for extraterrestrial life, in general, has continued over the past decades, of course, carried out by academic institutions around the world, by people like Tarter, one of the field's best-known seti researchers (and the inspiration for Ellie Arroway, the protagonist in Contact, Carl Sagan's 1985 classic science-fiction novel). But they wouldn't get any help from the feds. "[Senator Bryan] made it clear to the administration that if they came back with seti in their budget again, it wouldn't be good for the NASA budget," Tarter says now. "So we instantly became the four-letter S-word that you couldn't say at headquarters anymore, and that has stuck for quite a while."

That could soon change. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives recently proposed legislation for NASA's future that includes some intriguing language. The space agency, the bill recommends, should spend $10 million on the "search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions" per year, for the next two fiscal years. The House bill -- should it survive a vote in the House and passage in the Senate -- can only make recommendations for how agencies should use federal funding. But for seti researchers like Tarter, the fact that it even exists is thrilling. It's the first time congressional lawmakers have proposed using federal cash to fund seti in 25 years.

NASA

Could SpaceX Rocket Technology Put Lives At Risk? (chicagotribune.com) 296

In preparation for a crewed mission into orbit, NASA safety advisers are warning that the super-cold propellant SpaceX uses in their Falcon 9 rockets could be "a potential safety risk." When SpaceX is about to launch a rocket, they load it up with propellant at super-cold temperatures to shrink its size, allowing them to pack more of it into the tanks. "At those extreme temperatures, the propellant would need to be loaded just before takeoff -- while astronauts are aboard," reports Chicago Tribune. "An accident, or a spark, during this maneuver, known as 'load-and-go,' could set off an explosion." From the report: One watchdog group labeled load-and-go a "potential safety risk." A NASA advisory group warned in a letter that the method was "contrary to booster safety criteria that has been in place for over 50 years." The fueling issue is emerging as a point of tension between the safety-obsessed space agency and the maverick company run by Musk, a tech entrepreneur who is well known for his flair for the dramatic and for pushing boundaries of rocket science. The concerns from some at NASA are shared by others. John Mulholland, who oversees Boeing's contract to fly astronauts to the International Space Station and once worked on the space shuttle, said load-and-go fueling was rejected by NASA in the past because "we never could get comfortable with the safety risks that you would take with that approach. When you're loading densified propellants, it is not an inherently stable situation."

Greg Autry, a business professor at the University of Southern California, said the load-and-go procedures were a heated issue when he served on Trump's NASA transition team. "NASA is supposed to be a risk-taking organization," he said. "But every time we would mention accepting risk in human spaceflight, the NASA people would say, 'But, oh, you have to remember the scar tissue' -- and they were talking about the two shuttle disasters. They seemed to have become victims of the past and unwilling to try anything new, because of that scar tissue."

Mars

NASA Launches a New Mission To Mars (cnn.com) 73

"This is a big day. We're going back to Mars," said one NASA official, presiding over this morning's launch of the first Mars surface craft to lift off since 2011. CNN reports: The Atlas V 401 rocket also carried two suitcase-size spacecraft, designed to orbit Mars, as it blasted into the dark and cloudy sky, which turned bright gold for seconds as the rocket ascended in a plume of smoke... After a six-month journey, if it all goes as planned, InSight -- whose name is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport -- will touch down just north of the Martian equator on November 26, joining five other NASA spacecraft operating on and above Mars.

The 790-pound (358-kilogram) probe will then begin its two-year science mission to seek the "fingerprints" of the processes that formed the rocky planets of the solar system. It will measure the planet's "vital signs: 'its "pulse' (seismology), 'temperature' (heat flow) and 'reflexes' (precision tracking)," according to NASA. The explorer doesn't have wheels, so it can't roll around gathering up dirt to study. But it does have a 7.8-foot-long (2.4-meter) robotic arm. The arm will place a seismometer on the ground to detect "marsquakes" (think earthquakes, but on Mars, of course). InSight also will burrow 10 to 16 feet into the crust of Mars, going 15 times deeper than any previous Martian mission, according to NASA.

The rocket is carrying two briefcase-sized satellites (named Wall-E and Eva) which will demonstrate that cubesats can survey journeys to other planets.

Two microchips have also been affixed to the lander carrying the names of 2.4 million space enthusiasts -- including William Shatner.
Communications

NASA Successfully Tests New Nuclear Reactor For Future Space Travelers (npr.org) 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy say they have successfully tested a new type of nuclear reactor that could one day provide juice to colonies on other worlds. The reactor can power several homes and appears able to operate in harsh environments. The new reactor uses more-conventional uranium fuel. Using a "core" about the size of a paper towel roll, the reactor can turn pistons that can run a generator. The generator can put out about 10 kilowatts of electrical power -- enough to run a few small homes. Scientists believe it could run continuously for a decade or so, making deep space travel a lot simpler. They also gave it a catchy acronym: KRUSTY, which stands for Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY.

To see if it actually worked, scientists tested KRUSTY out in the Nevada desert on America's old nuclear test range. They put KRUSTY through its paces, culminating in a 28-hour test at full power. The team also simulated failures in KRUSTY's reactor components to show it wouldn't result in a meltdown on Mars. KRUSTY may find its way onto future space probes. Researchers say they might use an ensemble of four or five of the reactors to power colonies on the moon (which has 14-day nights, when the sun isn't available) or Mars.

NASA

NASA To Send 1 Million People's Names To the Sun (theatlantic.com) 76

An anonymous reader shares a report: This summer, a NASA spacecraft will launch into space from the coast of Florida, headed for the sun. After making several flybys of Venus to slow itself down, the Parker Solar Probe will come within 4 million miles of the sun's scorching surface, closer than any spacecraft in history.

NASA is never one to miss an opportunity to drum up publicity for upcoming space missions, especially the less flashy ones. Sending something to study the star we see every day may sound less thrilling, for example, than launching a mission to find exoplanets around 200,000 stars. So in March, the space agency announced a little campaign to promote the Parker Solar Probe: Send us your names and we'll put them on a microchip inside a spacecraft bound for the sun. (They even got Star Trek actor William Shatner to help promote it.)

The call for names, which closed at the end of last week, received more than 1.1 million submissions, according to a spokesperson at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, which designed and built the Parker Solar Probe. On the surface, the campaign was little more than a quirky act to get the public interested in space exploration. But considered more deeply, it represents the human desire to find ways to outlive ourselves and our bodies, to be remembered once our time here on Earth is up.

NASA

NASA To Cancel Lunar Resource Prospector Mission (theverge.com) 95

New submitter XXongo writes: NASA has told the Lunar Resource Prospector Mission team to cease work on developing the mission by the end of May. The proposed mission was in development to send a rover to the lunar pole in 2022, with the objective to drill into ice frozen in permanently shadowed craters. Use of such ice has been proposed as a resource that could be processd into rocket fuel, oxygen, and water for life support systems.

The cancellation apparently is partly due to the mission having been shifted from the Human Exploration directorate of NASA, which is excited by the possibility of lunar resources supporting exploration, to the Science Mission directorate, which does not consider lunar ice a high priority for science. The cancellation of the mission has gotten some controversy from the lunar science community, with the members of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) writing an open letter to new administrator Bridenstine protesting the cancellation.

ISS

NASA To Pay More For Less Cargo Delivery To the Space Station (arstechnica.com) 172

A new report from NASA's inspector general, Paul Martin, finds that NASA will pay significantly more for commercial cargo delivery to the ISS in the 2020s rather than enjoying cost savings from maturing systems. "NASA will likely pay $400 million more for its second round of delivery contracts from 2020 to 2024 even though the agency will be moving six fewer tons of cargo," reports Ars Technica. "On a cost per kilogram basis, this represents a 14-percent increase." From the report: One of the main reasons for this increase, the report says, is a 50-percent increase in prices from SpaceX, which has thus far flown the bulk of missions for NASA's commercial cargo program with its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. This is somewhat surprising because, during the first round of supply missions, which began in 2012, SpaceX had substantially lower costs than NASA's other partner, Orbital ATK. SpaceX and Orbital ATK are expected to fly 31 supply missions between 2012 and 2020, the first phase of the supply contract. Of those, the new report states, SpaceX is scheduled to complete 20 flights at an average cost of $152.1 million per mission. Orbital ATK is scheduled to complete 11 missions at an average cost of $262.6 million per mission.

But that cost differential will largely evaporate in the second round of cargo supply contracts. For flights from 2020 to 2024, SpaceX will increase its price while Orbital ATK cuts its own by 15 percent. The new report provides unprecedented public detail about the second phase of commercial resupply contracts, known as CRS-2, which NASA awarded in a competitively bid process in 2016. SpaceX and Orbital ATK again won contracts (for a minimum of six flights), along with a new provider, Sierra Nevada Corp. and its Dream Chaser vehicle. Bids by Boeing and Lockheed Martin were not accepted.

Earth

Was There a Civilization On Earth Before Humans? (theatlantic.com) 457

Adam Frank, writing for The Atlantic: We're used to imagining extinct civilizations in terms of the sunken statues and subterranean ruins. These kinds of artifacts of previous societies are fine if you're only interested in timescales of a few thousands of years. But once you roll the clock back to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years, things get more complicated.

When it comes to direct evidence of an industrial civilization -- things like cities, factories, and roads -- the geologic record doesn't go back past what's called the Quaternary period 2.6 million years ago. For example, the oldest large-scale stretch of ancient surface lies in the Negev Desert. It's "just" 1.8 million years old -- older surfaces are mostly visible in cross section via something like a cliff face or rock cuts. Go back much farther than the Quaternary and everything has been turned over and crushed to dust.

And, if we're going back this far, we're not talking about human civilizations anymore. Homo sapiens didn't make their appearance on the planet until just 300,000 years or so ago. [...] Given that all direct evidence would be long gone after many millions of years, what kinds of evidence might then still exist? The best way to answer this question is to figure out what evidence we'd leave behind if human civilization collapsed at its current stage of development.
Mr. Frank, along with Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, have published their research on the subject [PDF].
Government

Senate Confirms Climate Denier With No Scientific Credentials To Head NASA (nytimes.com) 529

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Trump's NASA nominee Jim Bridenstine, seven and a half months after being nominated to lead the agency. "The Senate confirmed Mr. Bridenstine, an Oklahoma congressman, as the new NASA administrator in a stark partisan vote: 50 Republicans voting for him and 47 Democrats plus two independents against," reports The New York Times. "The vote lasted more than 45 minutes as Republicans waited for Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona to cast his lot." Slashdot reader PeopleAquarium writes about some of Bridenstine's anti-LGBT and non-scientific views: Bridenstine ran a planetarium once, and peddled a debunked argument made by climate change skeptics, claiming that global temperatures "stopped rising 10 years ago." He said "the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept" an apology from then-President Barack Obama for what Bridenstine called a "gross misallocation" of funds for climate change research instead of weather forecasting. In further news, our rockets will now be coal powered, and gay people aren't allowed in space.
NASA

SpaceX Launches NASA's Planet-Hunting Satellite, Successfully Lands Its Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 37

SpaceX launched NASA's TESS spacecraft Wednesday evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship following takeoff. This marks 24 successful landings for SpaceX now, notes The Verge. We will update this post once TESS is deployed into orbit. From the report: TESS is NASA's newest exoplanet hunter. The probe is tasked with staring at stars tens to hundreds of light-years from Earth, watching to see if they blink. When a planet passes in front of a distant star, it dims the star's light ever so slightly. TESS will measure these twinkles from a 13.7-day orbit that extends as far out as the distance of the Moon. The satellite won't get to its final orbit on this launch. Instead, the Falcon 9 will put TESS into a highly elliptical path around Earth first. From there, TESS will slowly adjust its orbit over the next couple of months by igniting its onboard engine multiple times. The spacecraft will even do a flyby of the Moon next month, getting a gravitational boost that will help get the vehicle to its final path around Earth. Overall, it will take about 60 days after launch for TESS to get to its intended orbit; science observations are scheduled to begin in June.

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