Space

August 16, 2013

NASA ends attempts to fully recover Kepler spacecraft, potential new missions considered

Following months of analysis and testing, the Kepler Space Telescope team is ending its attempts to restore the spacecraft to full working order, and now is considering what new science research it can carry out in its current condition.

Two of Kepler’s four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, have failed. The first was lost in July 2012, and the second in May. Engineers’ efforts to restore at least one of the wheels have been unsuccessful.

Kepler completed its prime mission in November 2012 and began its four-year extended mission at that time. However, the spacecraft needs three functioning wheels to continue its search for Earth-sized exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, orbiting stars like our sun in what’s known as the habitable zone – the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of a planet might be suitable for liquid water. As scientists analyze previously collected data, the Kepler team also is looking into whether the space telescope can conduct a different type of science program, including an exoplanet search, using the remaining two good reaction wheels and thrusters.

“Kepler has made extraordinary discoveries in finding exoplanets including several super-Earths in the habitable zone,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Knowing that Kepler has successfully collected all the data from its prime mission, I am confident that more amazing discoveries are on the horizon.”

On Aug. 8, engineers conducted a system-level performance test to evaluate Kepler’s current capabilities. They determined wheel 2, which failed last year, can no longer provide the precision pointing necessary for science data collection. The spacecraft was returned to its point rest state, which is a stable configuration where Kepler uses thrusters to control its pointing with minimal fuel use.

“At the beginning of our mission, no one knew if Earth-size planets were abundant in the galaxy. If they were rare, we might be alone,” said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Now at the completion of Kepler observations, the data holds the answer to the question that inspired the mission: Are Earths in the habitable zone of stars like our sun common or rare?

An engineering study will be conducted on the modifications required to manage science operations with the spacecraft using a combination of its remaining two good reaction wheels and thrusters for spacecraft attitude control.

Informed by contributions from the broader science community in response to the call for scientific white papers announced Aug. 2, the Kepler project team will perform a study to identify possible science opportunities for a two-wheel Kepler mission.

Depending on the outcome of these studies, which are expected to be completed later this year, NASA will assess the scientific priority of a two-wheel Kepler mission. Such an assessment may include prioritization relative to other NASA astrophysics missions competing for operational funding at the NASA Senior Review board early next year.

From the data collected in the first half of its mission, Kepler has confirmed 135 exoplanets and identified over 3,500 candidates. The team continues to analyze all four years of collected data, expecting hundreds, if not thousands, of new discoveries including the long-awaited Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars. Though the spacecraft will no longer operate with its unparalleled precision pointing, scientists expect Keplerís most interesting discoveries are still to come.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for hosting the second Kepler Science Conference Nov. 4-8, at NASA’s Ames Research Center. This will be an opportunity to share not only the investigations of the Kepler project team, but also those of the wider science community using publicly accessible data from Kepler. Registration is now open.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines July 21, 2014

News: IDF releases Iron Dome interception rate - Israel’s Iron Dome system has successfully intercepted 86 percent of the Palestinian rockets that it has engaged during Operation ‘Protective Edge’, according to the Israel Defense Forces.   Business: The turnaround of France’s defense giant Thales - Within seconds of meeting Jean-Bernard Levy it becomes apparent that h...
 
 

News Briefs July 21, 2014

Corruption investigated in Kansas National Guard The Kansas Adjutant General’s office says federal authorities are investigating possible corruption involving outside medical companies’ contracts with the Kansas Army National Guard. Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the adjutant general’s office, confirmed the investigation Friday to The Lawrence Journal-World but declined to rel...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Rick Goodfriend

B61 undergoes testing in AEDC wind tunnel

Air Force photograph by Rick Goodfriend Arnold Engineering Development Complex engineers recently joined researchers with Sandia National Laboratories to perform a wind tunnel test on a full-scale mock-up B61. Pictured with the...
 

 
Army photograph by Charles Kennedy

New CT scanner finds diverse, important uses for researchers

Army photograph by Charles Kennedy Turning a now-standard tool for medical diagnostics and therapeutics to a host of new applications, the U. S. Army Research Laboratory’s Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate rece...
 
 

Ingalls Shipbuilding awarded $23.5 million LHA 8 affordability contract

Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding division has been awarded an affordability design contract for $23.5 million for early industry involvement to reduce the construction and life-cycle cost for the amphibious assault ship LHA 8. “Ingalls Shipbuilding has been constructing large-deck amphibious ships for nearly 50 years, and this contract will build on our company...
 
 
Marine Corps photograph

DOD identifies missing World War II Marine

Marine Corps photograph Marines wounded during the landing on Tarawa in November 1943 are towed out on rubber boats to larger vessels that will take them to base hospitals. The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>