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 September 15, 2014

News: Navy identifies pilot presumed dead in crash - A Navy fighter pilot presumed dead after two fighter jets crashed in the far western Pacific Ocean has been identified.   Business: Boeing eyes 737-700 solution for new JSTARS - Boeing is officially planning a variant of its 737-700 commercial jetliner as a competitor for the Air Force’s...
 
 

News Briefs September 15, 2014

Australia contributing planes for anti-IS campaign Australia is preparing to contribute 600 troops and up to 10 military aircraft to the increasingly aggressive campaign against the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sept. 14. Abbott said Australia was responding to a formal request from the United States for specific...
 
 
Courtesy graphic

Lockheed Martin conducts flight tests of aircraft laser turret for DARPA

AFRL photograph The Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control turret that Lockheed Martin is developing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory has completed initial flight testing. T...
 

 

Lockheed Martin advances live, virtual, constructive training in flight test

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jvXmOW8L3mU Lockheed Martin successfully tested a new solution for integrated live, virtual and constructive training during a flight demonstration at the company’s Aeronautics facility in Fort Worth, Texas. During the flight test, a pilot flying in a live F-16 engaged in a synthetic training exercise with a pilot flying as wing...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover arrives at Martian mountain

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission’s long-term prime destination. “Curiosity n...
 
 

Raytheon begins full rate production on TALON Laser Guided Rockets

Under a $117 million contract awarded to Raytheon, Raytheon Missile Systems has begun production of the TALON Laser Guided Rocket. In 2013, the Armed Forces General Headquarters of the United Arab Emirates awarded Tawazun a contract to procure the TALON Laser Guided Rocket. “Full rate production of the TALON LGR is a significant milestone for...
 




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>