SpaceX successfully launches NASA new exoplanet telescope

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully placed NASA’s new explanet space telescope, TESS, into orbit.

The first stage, which was making its first flight, successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic. They hope to reuse this booster on a future Dragon launch.

Update: TESS’s solar arrays have successfully deployed.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

11 China
8 SpaceX
3 Japan
3 Russia
3 Europe
3 India

The U.S. is now ahead of China, 12 to 11, in the national list.


Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

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  • Kirk

    The drone ship video cut out just before landing — as usual — but the stage one downward video rocketcam uplink kept running all the way through landing (this might have been because the ASDS was closer to shore than typical) and they continued to show that view for 25 seconds after the landing.

    The grid fins looked a little busier than normal during the first two-thirds of the landing burn (as if they were hunting), but quieted down as the legs deployed.

    The landing burn starts at about T+07:50 (27:45 in the video):

  • wayne

    I’d admire your linking-skills and numerous factoids!

    Can someone explain “instantaneous launch window?”

  • Jason

    I believe Russia’s launch total is 5. Here’s a link This site claims 6 Russian launches, however the second manned launch was either never publicized or it didn’t happen.

  • Jason: Neither the website or mine is wrong. The problem is where you wish to assign the Soyuz launches for Arianespace from French Guiana. I assign them to Arianespace, or Europe, Russianspaceweb assigns them to Russia.

    My thinking is that if Arianespace was not there to obtain the customers, the Russians would not have this business. Thus, I decided to put these launches in the European category.

  • Kirk

    Thanks Wayne. After reviewing a few other launch videos, I’m no longer sure that the grid fin motion was all that unusual. It had been so long since they recovered a stage — last one was the Falcon Heavy launch over two months ago, with four cores expended since then — that I must have forgotten what it was supposed to look like. ;^) I’m really looking forward to the Block 5 debut with Bangabandhu-1 in the first week of May. I sure hope it meets their reusability goals.

    Regarding instantaneous launch windows, that is when the launch window is so short — for whatever reason — that there is no time to recycle the clock and still launch on the same day in case of a hold. Yesterday’s window was 30 seconds — 18:51:31 – 18:52:01 EDT — so at some point leading up toward launch they picked one specific time in that window with the knowledge that any hold would result in a scrub.

    Linked below is a stackexchange discussion on the subject which mentions that at times the reason may be as mundane as range concerns, where authorities may want to close an airspace for only a short period of time. I haven’t seen the question addressed specifically for TESS, but I assume it had more to do with the target orbit. When targeting an inclined orbit with a specific plane, a vehicle will have to conduct an expensive dogleg maneuver if they miss the optimal launch time, so the size of the launch window can be determined by how much excess performance the vehicle has to work with. It can also be that mission planners may want to work only a limited set of numbers for trajectory, and when there is a large window, it is actually a series of instantaneous windows, for each of which a trajectory is precomputed for loading into the vehicle’s guidance. Also, sophistication of guidance varies, with some vehicles touting advanced RAAN Steering (RAAN = Right Ascension of the Ascending Node, the parameter which defines the orbital plane), so they can just be told their desired destination, and they figure out the trajectory on the fly.

    It was mentioned that the TESS’s 30 second launch window “wiggle room” was for collision avoidance concerns. I assume this means that a few hours before launch they run a final check with an orbital debris tracking database, and if necessary choose a point in that 30 second window which maximizes their clearance from other objects.

    Disclaimer: Not only am I not a rocket scientist, I haven’t even played Kerbal Space Program! Corrections and elaborations to my attempted explanation are encouraged.

  • wayne

    You do an excellent job with the rocketry factoids!
    (I do have Kerbal Space but haven’t touched it since last Fall. Highly recommend videos from a Scott Manley on running KSP.)

    Ok. thanks. instantaneous-launch window… essentially means what it says.
    “Orbital mechanics” blows my mind–too much 3-dimensional geometry for me– you never want me piloting a spacecraft. I’d rather (attempt to) handle Penrose space-time diagrams & particle physics.

    –The fins did appear to be reacting “more than usual,” I just assume it was windy.
    (They make it look, so easy… )

    pivoting– (I watch this at least once a week)

    America’s Thermonuclear Strike
    Trident 3 launch animation

  • Joe From Houston

    This Russian launching service tailoring off sounds political. Thanks for keeping abreast of their situation.

    Just watch! Our government will send them more launch contracts to keep them in the game of rockets launching all over the world, somehow, someway, somewhere, sometime.

  • Dick Eagleson

    And our government would do this… why, exactly?

  • wayne

    NASA’s New Exoplanet Hunter is Using A Clever Orbit
    Scott Manley
    april 16, 2018
    “The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is launching on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and some clever work by the designers has enabled it to reach an ideal orbit with almost no work by the spacecraft. Instead much of the work is carried out by the Falcon 9 upper stage with only small adjustments made by the spacecraft’s attitude control thrusters. By doing this they were able to make the spacecraft even cheaper and fit it into the small budget available.”

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