NASA announces plans to give Kepler telescope a second life
Although NASA reported in May that the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope went offline, the space agency is investigating a process to bring the spacecraft back to life. Video still by PBS NewsHour
Once considered a “long shot,” NASA announced Tuesday that it’s reviving plans to fix its planet-hunting Kepler telescope.
Back in August, NASA announced the spacecraft was beyond repair when two of the $600 million telescope’s gyroscope-like reaction wheels failed, leaving Kepler unable to align itself on distant planets and stars for data collection.
But NASA said its new plan — dubbed “K2″ — could harness the push of solar photons to course-correct the space telescope.
This illustration depicts how solar pressure can be used to balance NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, keeping the telescope stable enough to continue searching for transiting planets around distant stars. Image courtesy of NASA Ames/W Stenzel
“Kepler mission and Ball Aerospace engineers have developed an innovative way of recovering pointing stability by maneuvering the spacecraft so that solar pressure is evenly distributed across the surfaces of the spacecraft,” the space agency said in a release.
“To achieve this level of stability, the orientation of the spacecraft must be nearly parallel to its orbital path around the sun, which is slightly offset from the ecliptic, the orbital plane of Earth. The ecliptic plane defines the band of sky in which lie the constellations of the zodiac.”
Launched into the sun’s orbit in 2009, the Kepler telescope looked for far-flung stars that may harbor Earth-like planets. It has discovered more than 3,500 possible exoplanets with 167 of those confirmed.