In the midst of surveying thousands of stars to spot exoplanets, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) entered into safe mode on Monday. It’s not yet clear what happened to the spacecraft, but engineers are trying to resuscitate the planet hunter.
Update 8:30 a.m. ET: TESS resumed normal operations on Thursday, October 13 around 6:30 p.m. ET after engineers successfully powered up its flight computer, according to NASA.
The spacecraft is stable, but early investigations suggests it suffered from a computer glitch, NASA announced on Wednesday. The team behind the mission is still trying to figure out what happened to the spacecraft, but TESS may have gone into safe mode in response to a reset of its flight computer.
TESS entered into a stable configuration as a result and its science operations have been suspended for the time being. Any recent science data that the spacecraft collected but had not yet sent to ground control is stored on the satellite. “Recovery procedures and investigations are underway to resume normal operations, which could take several days,” NASA wrote in a statement.
Launched in 2018, TESS is searching for planets outside of our solar system. The mission is designed to survey thousands of stars and identify possible planets in orbit around them, which it does using the tried-and-true transit method of detection. TESS stares at a star and measures the tiny dip in brightness caused by a planet passing in front of it from the spacecraft’s point of view.
TESS has used the transit method to discover more than 250 exoplanets so far, with thousands of candidate exoplanets still waiting to be confirmed. The spacecraft was originally designed to last two years, but it’s managed to keep going. Hopefully, this recent glitch isn’t anything to be too concerned about.
TESS followed the Kepler mission, a space telescope that launched in 2009 and led to the discovery of more than 2,600 exoplanets during its nearly 10 years in orbit. The search for exoplanets is fueled by our curiosity as to whether another Earth-like habitable planet exists somewhere in the galaxy, and if life on Earth can be replicated in the vast cosmos.