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TESS Pre-Launch Presser

TESS Pre-Launch Presser



  • Joshua Finch, NASA Communications Office


  • Sandra Connelly, Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs, NASA Science Mission Directorate
  • Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Robert Lockwood, TESS Spacecraft Program Manager, Orbital ATK
  • Omar Baez, Launch Director, NASA's Launch Services Program
  • Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX
  • And Mike McAleenan, Weather Officer from the 45th Weather Squadron

Joshua Finch, Moderator: Good afternoon and welcome to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the pre-launch news conference for TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. TESS is scheduled to lift off tomorrow, April 16th at 6:32PM on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40. I'm Josh Finch of NASA Communications, and I'm pleased to be joined today by Sandra Connelly, Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs, NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Robert Lockwood, TESS Spacecraft Program Manager, Orbital ATK. Omar Baez, Launch Director, NASA's Launch Services Program. Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX. And Mike McAleenan, Weather Officer from the 45th Weather Squadron. We'll begin with opening comments from our participants, and then turn it over to questions in the room. We also have #askNASA questions and a phone bridge. Sandra?

Sandra Connelly, NASA SMD: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. In 1958, we launched the Explorer 1 satellite, which discovered the Van Allen radiation belts around the Earth and began a series of high-science payoff, low-cost class missions. TESS continues this series of Explorer class missions just a few months before NASA's 60th anniversary. Please tee up the video. TESS will find thousands of exoplanets outside our solar system around nearby stars, so that we can search for the ingredients and possible signs of life in conjunction with our other missions, such as the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. TESS will hopefully find the nearest of our exoplanet neighbors, those that may be visited in the distant future when humans leave our solar system for the stars. The success of TESS could not have been possible without the outstanding contributions of our partners. I truly appreciate the brilliant minds that have contributed in making the spacecraft, launch, and operations a reality. NASA's discoveries have transformed our understanding of ourselves, the Earth, the solar system, and the universe. We expect TESS's discoveries to do the same. I want to end with saying go Falcon 9, go TESS, and over to you, Jeff.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: Thanks. So, as the project manager, I've been on this project for five years, and it's been an amazing ride. We've had great partnerships with Orbital ATK, MIT, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Ames Research Center. It's been a wonderful ride to here. It's been great getting to know the SpaceX team and the Launch Services Program folks down at the Cape, and we are ready to go. And as Sandra said, TESS forms kind of a bridge between what we've learned about exoplanets to date and where we're headed in the future. Everyone's heard about all the great discoveries that have been made by the Kepler space telescope. You think about Kepler, it only stared at one small portion of the sky, and they found thousands of exoplanets orbiting outside of our solar system. But many of them too distant and too dim to do any follow-up observations. And so the goal with our mission is now to do a full-sky survey. Let's look all over the sky. And let's specifically look for candidates where there are planets orbiting stars that are closer to Earth, maybe only dozens of light years away to hundreds of light years away. And ones that are bright enough, so that the light from those stars, coming through the atmosphere of an exoplanet, could be studied by something like the James Webb telescope. And so that's a really big part of our mission, is to enable future exploration by providing a giant data set all over the sky of where these exoplanets are, the ones that are closest to Earth and brightest for follow-up observations. With the hope that someday, in the next decades, we'll be able to identify the potential for life to exist outside the solar system. The most important part of this is the spacecraft itself, and so I'm going to let Robert talk more about that, as the representative from Orbital ATK.

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Thank you, Jeff. It's been a real pleasure for us to be partnered with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and our friends at the MIT Kavli Institute, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. This spacecraft will be the 31st spacecraft that we have delivered to NASA for their science missions. So it's been a long, productive partnership with us and NASA for many years. Really looking forward to operating this spacecraft. I've been personally involved with the mission for eight years now, when George Ricker, our Principle Investigator, first approached Orbital Sciences at the time, now Orbital ATK, to do this fantastic mission. So, following along, building it up, preparing it for all these operations has been very exciting for me. And so if you queue up the video of the spacecraft in orbit. Once we come off the top of the rocket, all the fun for us spacecraft folks begins. About 44 minutes after launch, we'll separate from the launch vehicle, deploy our solar arrays, and be nice and happy and power-positive. We'll then check out the functions of the spacecraft over about a five day period. Turn on the instrument at about six to eight days. Get first light about eight days after we're launched. Then we'll do a series of propulsive maneuvers and fly by the moon, which will be a tremendously exciting day on May 16th. Eventually getting into this very special orbit, this p-over-two [P/2] lunar resonant orbit on about June 12th. So really looking forward to the exciting part where we'll operate the spacecraft from our Dulles, Virginia Mission Operations Center. And continuing on into very many years or decades. If George Ricker has his way, we'll just keep going and getting fantastic science. So really glad to be here. Go TESS. And I'll pass it over to Omar to tell us a little about launch services.

Omar Baez, NASA LSP: Thank you so much. And first, I want to apologize to the members of the media for being a little late. I forgot how to put on a tie and a suit and it just put me behind. [Laughter] No, seriously, we just got done with our Launch Readiness Review. It all went well. It's a testament to the thoroughness we go through in reviewing these launch vehicles. And first I want to thank the members of the Launch Services Program, and of SpaceX, for helping us get through the certification of the Falcon Full Thrust vehicle. It's been a little over two years since we've flown on the Falcon 9, and that was a version 1.1 out of Vandenberg. It was a Jason mission. And since that time, we've been working hand-in-hand with SpaceX to get to the certification, to be able to fly the type of mission that TESS is, and it's a very important science mission for the agency. It's not large, but it's a powerful stepping stone towards getting what the James Webb Space Telescope needs to go do. So again thanks to all those folks. So, a little bit about the processing, and what's gone on. The launch vehicle got here about a month ago, or more. The folks have been preparing it, along with the rest of the missions that they've been working on. We had a mission dress rehearsal last Monday, which went well. It got us accustomed to working with the SpaceX team and the range, and this mode of launch vehicle. We had a Flight Readiness Review on Tuesday, along with a static fire testing of the Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday. Like I said, we finished our Launch Readiness Review this morning, and here we are. The spacecraft and the launch vehicle are ready to go. The sequence of events that you'll see in the next day and half are, sometime after midnight, if the weather cooperates with us, we'll be able to roll the launch vehicle out to the pad. Connect the vehicle up to its commodities. Raise the vehicle up to the vertical. And turn on the spacecraft. Start loading the pressure vessels. And hopefully by T-3 hours, my launch team will be on station. The SpaceX team comes in just about then, and they start getting ready for their LOX load, which will occur at T-70 minutes. We are aiming for a 6:32 in the evening launch. 6:32:07 I should say. And we have a 30 second window to be able to get that mission off tomorrow. So everything's looking good. Weather tells me they're going to be good, we have to see this front pass through tonight, but all is well. And with that, I'll turn it over to Hans.

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Thank you. Thanks so much. Yeah, SpaceX is excited to launch TESS. A really big mission for us. And since you just mentioned Jason, I was trying to figure out how many rockets we've launched between Jason and TESS, and I think it's about 30, more than 30? And certainly that we launched more between Jason and TESS than we launched before Jason. That's pretty uh, it amazes myself, actually. Alright, so 6:32, as everybody said, tomorrow night. We will go into a trans-lunar orbit. It'll be a two-burn main mission with an additional burn to dispose the spacecraft. The first burn is pretty much like a geo transfer burn. That's how it's going to look from here. Due east, more or less. Not quite. Then we're going to coast for about 40 minutes, is what I remember, have a second burn, and then shortly thereafter, we're going to deploy the spacecraft, and hand the keys over to you [looks at OATK rep]. The first stage will perform a droneship landing, as it has done many times before. In fact, this is going to be, if it goes well, this is our 24th overall recovery of a booster, and I think the 13th or 14th droneship landing. Sorry, 23 in total so far. We have done 11 land landing so far, 12 droneship landings. So it's the 13th. Those numbers need to add up. Let's see, it's actually our eighth mission this year. We've ramped up the number of mission significantly. And it pays out in having a more routine operation, and in being more confident that things will work. I'm really excited about tomorrow night and thing that we are ready to go. Pending weather? [looks at Weather Officer] And with that I'm probably going to hand it over to Mike. [laughs]

Mike McAleenan, Weather Officer: Well, uh, I'm just thankful that we're not launching tonight, I'll just say that. Because we've got pretty gusty winds outside right now, strong winds out to the south, bringing up all the warm temperatures up from Miami. And that's all ahead of this very strong frontal boundary that's moving through. Can we the satellite video up? You can see where it's moving up the big bend area of Florida right now. Slowly making its way to central Florida. We're expecting showers to start in central Florida probably around 3:00PM, in a couple hours or so. And it looks like thunderstorm activity probably around 6:00PM. And that's when our severe threat begins. Probably six to about 10 PM. Looks like that's going to go trucking on through. And hopefully by midnight, showers will have diminished again, and we're ready to roll out. So looking at the forecast. Next slide. For the primary day, again, we're looking at that front just to push on through, should be well to our south, out of the peninsula. Winds die off fairly quickly on the backside of that. They'll be west-northwesterly, 20-25 mph at 200 ft. So there's a 20% of violation. I don't think you'll see much in the way of clouds at all tomorrow, so it should be good viewing conditions as long as those winds do drop off and stay below liftoff constraints. If for some reason we need to go to the backup day. Next slide. You'll see that the conditions stay fantastic. Might develop a little bit upper level cirrus, but less than a 10% chance of violation as winds are definitely dropped off to just about nothing as high pressure settles overhead. So looking very, very good for this backup day, and I think we've got a real good shot at tomorrow too, as long as that front continues to push through and we get rolled out on time. Thank you.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: And thank you, Mike. We'll now begin by taking questions. We'll start here in the room. We also do have a phone bridge, and #askNASA questions. If you could, raise your hand, state your name and your affiliation, and to whom you're directing your question. And we'll start right here in the front of the room.

Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: Chris Gebhardt with NASASpaceFlight. So for Hans, can you talk a little bit about what this high priority science mission means for SpaceX in terms of being chosen for the launch provider for it, and for the launch outlook for the rest of the month, can one of you talk about the opportunities through April, and how, from the NASA side of this, with launch service providers, this works with InSight? If I understand correctly, there's a date that you have to be off the ground by with TESS before having to stand down for InSight. Can you talk about that?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Yeah, I want actually use the opportunity to thank NASA, our customer, for the confidence in having us launch this really important mission. So that is something that I should definitely note. Also, at the same token, I want to thank the Air Force and the FAA too, who support us for this mission. And then of course, our integration team at SpaceX and LSP, getting ready for this launch. TESS is, I want to say TESS has a special relevance for SpaceX in the sense that we want humanity to become a multi-planetary species, and this is about planets in other systems. So it's probably further down the road, but at the end of the day, that is the road, that might be a roadmap in the, I think we said the distant future? [looks at NASA SMD rep] So it's super-exciting that we look for planets in other systems and try to figure out where humanity might one day, who knows, go there. So from that perspective, absolutely, very important mission for us.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: So for my side, thanks Hans, it's great to have a launch provider who's as excited about the science as we are. So thank you. So as it comes to backup launch opportunities, every day we have a launch opportunity from the 16th until April 26th, except for the 20th, right? And the 20th is only because it happens a little bit after midnight, so on the 20th that calendar day, there is no launch opportunity. So 16th through the 26th. They start to move further and further into the evening. So the first two are around 6:30, then you start to get to 7, 8 o'clock. They go through midnight and start to come into the early morning. If we don't launch by the 26th, the Launch Services Program has priority to put on the InSight mission and their launch window. So they need a stand down on our mission temporarily. So that ends on the 26th, that'll be our last opportunity for April. And then we're going to continue to talk with them about, depending on when InSight launches, when the next opportunity for us would be. I think the first InSight launch date is May 5th? Do I have that right? So May 5th. Again, if they launch earlier in their window, that provides us with an opportunity to get back on the pad earlier. Their window goes all the way through June 9th, I believe, so that could push us a little further if they need more time. They have a very specific planetary window they need to meet, so they are a high priority for the agency. For us, we can launch multiple times in any month. So if we get pushed to May, if we get pushed to June, we have opportunities.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: We will now go to the phone bridge. We have James Dean from Florida Today.

James Dean, Florida Today: Hi. Thanks so much. Hans, could you confirm, is this that last new Block 4 Falcon that you plan to launch?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Yes. That is correct. It's the last new, not flight-proven yet, Block 4, is what you mean. We will continue flying flight-proven Block 4 stage 1 boosters for a couple more times, but we will then switch over to Block 5.

James Dean, Florida Today: And could you possibly just highlight a few of the key changes you've made to Block 5, just generally, and then how you expect them to improve reusability?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Yeah. I think Block 5 basically summarizes all of what we learned on reusability. Whenever we recover a booster and then it goes to refurbishment, we find things that are given us basically lessons for the next block, and in this case we're trying to summarize all of these lessons learned into a booster that then is able to fly, and be recovered, and fly again multiple times without a lot of refurbishment. And that's basically the key thing on Block 5, is a reliability upgrade that combines reliability and reusability.

James Dean, Florida Today: And is there one or two examples you could give, of those types of lessons learned?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Off the top of my head? Materials on the heat shield down at the engine bays are what I would probably cite, but there's a lot of details here that are very technical.

James Dean, Florida Today: Okay, thanks. And finally for Hans or Omar, how much margin do you have in your schedule, in case this severe weather should linger a bit longer than hoped to roll out and have an attempt tomorrow?

Omar Baez, NASA LSP: So the nominal roll out's at midnight, but we probably have three or four hours to be able to move things, to be able to adjust to make it.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: [silently signals to next question in room].

Ken Kremer, RocketSTEM / NEAF: Hi, Ken Kremer, for RocketSTEM and Northeast Astronomy Forum. For Hans and Omar. Okay, so this is a new orbit, never before used science orbit. P/2 resonant. So I'm wondering if there's any special requirements, any special challenges for the SpaceX Falcon 9 to achieve this orbit. And did you need to use the Block 3 and Block 4, earlier versions were not capable of this?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Do you want to go first?

Omar Baez, NASA LSP: Yeah. So Ken, it's not an unusual orbit. It's not the typical one that SpaceX is flying, but if I were to bring my analysts here in the room, they would say there's nothing special about this orbit. We've used highly elliptical orbits before for other instruments. It's not one that we use all the time. But for this particular mission it applies. And the physics behind it are not all that misunderstood. It's well known what it'll do.

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: For us, it's a little bit different, in the way that it looks like a geo transfer orbit, but going further out to the moon. And the targeting basically changes everyday. That's something that we have to deal with here. That's not a big deal. And in terms of performance, it's also not challenging Falcon 9.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: And I think the key from our side too, is that once you get tipped off the top of that Falcon, we now need to rely on our own propulsion system. So the Orbital team has had the challenge of making sure that we can get into that final orbit. We have to do apogee burns and perigee burns for four or five orbits, after we get tipped off the top, to make sure that we get into the right configuration, so we can do the lunar flyby that Robert mentioned before. And it's that lunar flyby timing that's going to put us into that orbit. So there's challenges both on the SpaceX side, and then on our side.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: Then we'll go to Marcia Dunn on the third row.

Marcia Dunn, AP: Marcia Dunn, Associated Press. How close are you coming to the moon on May 16th during that flyby. And could a few more people talk about the excitement of going out there to find new worlds and what might lie out there?

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Yeah, the lunar encounter is a few thousand kilometers above the surface. And as Jeff was mentioning, Hans will put us into this highly elliptical, almost geo transfer-like orbit, but there'll be a number of propulsive maneuvers that we'll make before we target exactly on that flyby. So it's a fairly routine flyby. It'll be an exciting day, but it's a routine gravitational assist from the moon.

Marcia Dunn, AP: Can someone touch on some of the excitement on going out to explore and find new worlds?

Sandra Connelly, NASA SMD: I'll start. So NASA, obviously is very interested in exploring life here on Earth, but also exploring the universe and searching for life elsewhere. And this is a key mission that's going to enable us to look at stars that are nearby and help us to understand whether or not there are, if there's planets around them, identify and survey the planets. And then leverage other missions to help us understand whether or not they have the ingredients and capability to support life. So it is very exciting. It's something that, I think by human nature, we look for exploration and adventure. And this is an opportunity to see what's next.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: You know it's funny. I worked at NASA Headquarters back in the 80s. And NASA as a whole was kind of reticent to even talk about the search for life outside the solar system because the thought that we could ever develop tools was like a far-out science fiction dream. So I think that's what's changed a lot, is that the tools have been in place for the last 20 years to start to understand the size of the planets, where they are, what they might be composed of, and kind of leading along a continuum to where you might actually at some point identify, hey there could be life on that planet. We found a signature in the atmosphere. Or something like that. So, I think that's what's been exciting just in our lifetimes, is that we've gone from have the potential to never know the answer to the question, to where we now think we're on a path to get there.

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Yeah, and I would say I also think it's very exciting for us at Orbital ATK. I mentioned earlier, this is our 31st mission where we have delivered a science spacecraft for NASA, and so it's very exciting to do the engineering, the nuts and bolts, but really to tie into exoplanet science, and to look for things outside, astrophysics, heliophysics, it's just, it makes doing the job of engineering even more exciting for us.

Steven Young, Astronomy Now / Spaceflight Now: Steven Young with Astronomy Now and Spaceflight Now for Hans or Omar. Could you tell us a little bit about the requirements you have for the weather, for the roll out? And what sort of things you might be concerned about tonight, in terms of the actual weather conditions?

Omar Baez, NASA LSP: So our main concern for both the launch vehicle and the spacecraft with this type of weather obviously, exposure to the moisture, lightning, that kind of thing. The vehicle is pretty robust, and we can launch in winds approximating 30 knots. So it's not going to be crazy at launch time from what Mike said, it's going to be fairly benign. I mean, he went to, he said clouds might be, or ground winds might trip us, but we're nowhere near those limits. In his predicts.

Steven Young, Astronomy Now / Spaceflight Now: In terms of the roll out tonight?

Omar Baez, NASA LSP: In terms of the roll out, obviously we can't have lightning in the area while the folks are trying to roll the vehicle out, because of safety exposures. And they're going to be using some lifts out there to do some of the work, so some of that might be limited if the wind is a little bit too strong. And that's up to the operator. Hans?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Yeah, it might be delayed for an hour or two, but I trust Mike with his forecast.

Mike Wall, Mike Wall, This one is probably Hans. Do you guys plan to try to recover the actual payload fairing on this flight? Are there any plans for that?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Good question, yes, excellent. So we will try to recover the fairing, but there's no catching the fairings, like we tried on the west coast. We have a boat there that will basically inspect them and pick them up. Same parachutes as the last attempt. I'm pretty confident we're going to make some progress towards final recovery here.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: And now we'll go to the phone bridge. I think we have Stephen Clark?

Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now: Hi, Stephen Clark from Spaceflight Now. Thanks for taking me. A couple of questions. First, probably for Robert or Jeff, does one of you remember off-hand the distance from the moon during the lunar flyby next month? And for Hans, looking ahead to the first Block 5 mission, has that vehicle been delivered to Florida yet? That booster? And how did the testing go in McGregor? Thank you.

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Yeah, Hi Stephen. Good to talk to you again. I answered the question a little bit earlier. It's a few thousands of kilometers, but I don't know the exact number off the top of my head. Goddard Space Flight Center Flight Dynamics has worked out all those intricate details, but I have confidence that we've got it targeted just right.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: And the TESS cameras will not be on, so don't expect photographs of the moon as we flyby, or--

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: No moon selfie for this one.

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Yeah, regarding Block 5. Block 5 is here. We're all excited about that. We had a good test campaign in Texas. I believe it was faster than we've ever had on new block upgrades. But it certainly takes time to get everything worked out and tested on a block upgrade here. So I'm looking forward to that launch in early May.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: We'll go to Bill Harwood.

Bill Harwood, CBS News: Hi, Bill Harwood, CBS News. Two quick ones for Hans, and they're just nuts and bolts. I noticed the RSS is slowly vanishing before our eyes at 39A. Is the hinge, the hinge that is still there, is that coming down too? Or are we seeing basically how it's going to be down the road?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: I don't know that, unfortunately. I don't know that.

Bill Harwood, CBS News: Okay. And second one for you, or maybe it's for Mike. Lift off winds. I realize it depends on the angle that it's coming in, but can you give me a ballpark of what the constraints are, since you listed it in your forecast?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: I think the earlier number of 30mph is the right number. Yeah. It's high enough to not worry about it the entire time.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: We'll go to the front of the room.

Thaddeus Cesari, New York Observer: Hi. Thaddeus Cesari with the New York Observer. I was hoping to hear a little bit more about the James Webb telescope dual approach that's being applied here. Just a bit more detail on why you would do that, and what are some of the benefits? And as an extension, will the delay have any impact on the science?

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: So you're talking about us working with James Webb to, yeah. So think about it, when James Webb was first designed, there was no such thing as an exoplanet that had been discovered. So it wasn't purposely set out to have part of its mission be exoplanet research. So what's happened is, since Kepler's discoveries, there's been a thought that hey, this very powerful telescope could be used for things like understanding atmospheres of exoplanets. Turns out again though, that the Kepler targets that they looked at are very far away. Very dim. And you wouldn't get enough light. And the goal is, you've got this star shining, a planet passes in front of it. If the planet happens to have an atmosphere, that light comes through the planet's atmosphere. Some wavelengths are absorbed based on the chemical composition of the atmosphere. So what you see at Earth, or at the James Webb's L2 location, would be that spectrum that's had some of the elements reduced out of it, right? That's what they're going to be doing. So the goal is for us to find these bright targets that are close enough to Earth that it allows them to do that follow-up research. And they are not the only ones. So I think that's the key here. That it's not just a James Webb enabling thing we're doing. It's to find those targets all over the sky. Ground-based research, bigger and bigger telescopes are being built on the ground, right? Future thoughts in the astrophysics division at NASA to build bigger and bigger telescopes in space. So following all the way to where you might be able to directly image an exoplanet someday, that's kind of the dream, right? Maybe you can study an atmosphere, but boy, wouldn't it be able to take, to be able to take a snapshot of an Earth-sized planet. Not just some big hot glowing planet, that maybe you can do today. So that's where we fit in. And the fact that the James Webb's going to launch later only gives us more time to complete a survey, do some ground follow-up. Because some of the targets we're going to find are going to be false positives. We're going to look at the data, some ground research will follow up, and they'll say that really wasn't a planet, it was a giant starspot. You just got kind of tricked on that one. So we're going to make sure we get the best candidates, and so that delay doesn't really affect us. And again, the database, it's going to be stored at the MAST, it's the archive up at the Space Telescope Institute in Maryland. So the data will be there. And again, everyone, it'll be all calibrated data, the tools will be there to use the data, and as we've seen in Kepler, there are tons of university students out there who would love to go in the archive and find their own exoplanets. And that's what we're really counting on. So we're providing a giant dataset, let the community go at it and find the exoplanets.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: And we have three questions from #askNASA.

NASA Social Media: Yeah. First question here comes from twitter user [Jean?], who is asking for Robert Lockwood to answer. What will be the primary challenges that you see in getting to first light during the commissioning period? Are there any concerns?

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: No, no real concerns. We have a standard checkout of all the health systems of the spacecraft, during that five days. We check for power, attitude control, thermal control, that the radios work. So that's a standard process for us to follow. We'll then turn it over to fire up the instrument data processing computer, and then for them to turn on their cameras two days later and get first light. So all the procedures that we've instituted at our Mission Operations Center, and working with the Payload Operations Center at MIT, they're all ready to go. They are fully setup to do all those commissioning activities.

NASA Social Media: Alright, wonderful. Twitter user Phillip here is asking, was TESS processed and encapsulated at Astrotech, or a SpaceX facility, or somewhere else?

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Sure, so I'll pick that one too. We use the NASA Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, or PHSF, which is on-site here at Kennedy. We rolled in there on February 12th, had about two months of processing, and then were encapsulated there in the PHSF and transported over to the Space Launch Complex number 40 a few days ago.

NASA Social Media: Alright. And lastly talking about the orbits here, Twitter user Jimmy is asking how far from Earth will TESS orbit?

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Okay, I'll take that one too. So the P/2 orbit has a 17 Earth-radius perigee, that is, the closest point of approach to the Earth is about twice the distance of the geosynchronous communications belt. Then it's apogee, or further point from the Earth, is 59 Earth radii, and that's out beyond the distance of the moon. But because we're in this resonance, dance orbit, and I'm remiss to wave my hands around like I've seen George Ricker do many times [waves hands around]. It's always out there when the moon's not there. So it's doing a dance that's always avoiding the moon and staying in this very stable resonant orbit.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: We'll go back to the front.

Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: Chris Gebhardt with NASASpaceFlight again for Hans. I know the launch window is very, very short tomorrow, at only 30 seconds, but can you talk in general about any hold points in the count for Falcon 9 after fueling starts of RP-1. Can you hold the count at any point without having to recycle and de-tank? And when's the last moment in the count that you could do that?

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: So, I think we could hold it in the theory when we still load RP-1, but as soon as we start loading LOX, it's basically a commitment to go or not to go. I do want to point out, 30 seconds is basically, for that matter, an instantaneous launch window, more or less. But it has an upside. If there is a collision avoidance warning, we can move it a couple seconds left and right, and avoid it basically. So it's pretty easy for us to implement that.

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Yeah, we-- [crosstalk] --I'll take it, sorry. That launch window. It is essentially instantaneous, but we have 30 seconds. It would only move to the right, actually. We're targeting the opening of the window. So if there is a COLA, a collision avoidance notice that we have to move it, our flight dynamics has set it up that we can move to the right as far as 30 seconds.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: Yeah, and because there is no hold, and, so we're going to come in awfully early that morning, make sure the spacecraft powers up okay, and make sure we're ready to go. So even if we have to sit there idly for four or five hours, no problem. But if we run into any issues, we want to make sure we're ready to go when they go to fuel.

Ken Kremer, RocketSTEM / NEAF: Hi, Ken Kremer for Hans. Since InSight is launching in early May, you just mentioned early May for the Block 5. I'm wondering, is there any interference there, any days you have to avoid because of that? And for the NASA people, what is the follow-on exoplanet mission for after this? You used to have a coronagraph mission that I don't think you're doing anymore, what are the plans? Thanks.

Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX: Yeah, regarding the early May launch, I'm pretty sure the range will just deconflict that by a couple of days, to make sure that we don't run into each other. The standard process.

Sandra Connelly, NASA SMD: And so, it's still in formulation, but WFIRST is also going to be exploring exoplanet.

Ken Kremer, RocketSTEM / NEAF: Besides WFIRST. I understand that.

Sandra Connelly, NASA SMD: So I do not have the details on that for you. I'll have to get back to you. I'm new to my job, so--

Ken Kremer, RocketSTEM / NEAF: They're not doing the coronagraph mission I guess, right?

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: I think there's still a lot of talk about doing something like that, I don't think there's any specific plans to do. And there's a lot of different ideas on how to do it. I think again the tools are being developed, people are thinking about it, but there's no funded program to finish and build something of that sort yet. I think as Sandra said, that WFIRST is really the focus right now as the next step.

Joshua Finch, Moderator: [gestures to the front]

Thaddeus Cesari, New York Observer: Just one more, Thaddeus Cesari, New York Observer. How do you think the public is going to react to this science when it hits the mainstream? What are your expectations for the science when it happens?

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: I'll take this one, it's fine for me. When I talk to my wife about this, who's a little bit close to it because her husband's working it for eight years, but she's not a scientist. And she is very excited about it. She sees it as extraordinary stuff. I've worked other missions before that weren't quite as compelling to her, they were exciting, but the idea of finding other things on other planets really just sparks something in people. So I think it'll catch on like wildfire. Kepler got a lot of hot topics everywhere. I think TESS is going to bring that to yet another level.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: Yeah, and I think that's the thing. If you look at what Kepler found, nobody assumed there'd be a planet that might be made all of diamond. Or that there could be worlds that are all covered in water, and things like that. So I think when everybody says like, what's your favorite exoplanet, I think mine's going to be whatever we find. And it's going to be solar systems we never imagined possible, that you use our model and say, how did they come up with that? There's different ways of forming solar systems that we don't even understand right now. And I think the other thing too about TESS is, it's all about this, call it citizen science or what you may. It's that our goal is not... In the Kepler case, the team went through the data over, and over, and over again. Identified all the exoplanets. But then, as they did that, the community at large started to learn how to write software to do that. So what's going to happen with TESS that's most exciting for me is that people all over the world are going to go to that data archive, and years from now they're going to say hey, I found a couple more planets over here. And so I think that engagement of a broad community, versus just some few exoplanet experts, the world of exoplanets is now so big as a scientific community, that you're going to get a lot of science performed all around the world with our data, and that's pretty exciting.

Robert Lockwood, Orbital ATK: Yeah, and you know the other thing that is connected to this, is that NASA asked for students, children, to draw their imaginations of what exoplanets would be, and submit them. And we got tens of thousands, I forget the exact total number, that we then loaded on to a memory stick that's actually glued on to the bottom of the spacecraft, and it's going to go into orbit with her. So there was tremendous excitement about it, and some of those pictures are quite fantastic.

Jeff Volosin, TESS project manager: Yeah, and now you have little kids that understand what an exoplanet is. I mean, that's a pretty incredible time in our history, that you now have little kids that grew up with this idea. "Oh yeah, there's plenty of planets out there."

Joshua Finch, Moderator: And do we have any remaining questions in the room? And with that we'll conclude today's briefing. A reminder that the launch of TESS is scheduled for 6:32PM tomorrow night. NASA television coverage will begin at 6PM. Until then you can keep up with the mission by going to or you can follow us on social media. Thank you.

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