An artist’s rendition of the Kepler Space Telescope, which broke down in May. NASA tried for three months to restore Kepler.
NASA via New York Times,
Kepler Telescope's days of planet-hunting over
- Article by: Eryn Brown and Amina Khan
- Los Angeles Times
- August 15, 2013 - 9:43 PM
LOS ANGELES - NASA scientists said Thursday that the agency will no longer attempt to restore full function to the planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope, which has been hobbled since the spring.
A three-month effort to return the craft to working order, completed just last week, was unsuccessful, deputy project manager Charles Sobeck said during a phone call with reporters.
Reaction wheels that help the craft focus on far-off stars “are sufficiently damaged that they cannot sustain spacecraft pointing control for any extended period of time,” he said, adding that the space agency will now focus on figuring out how it might still use the telescope with only two fully functioning reaction wheels.
Scientists who are interested in finding Earth-like planets outside of our solar system have regarded the Kepler mission as a big success. By observing slight dips in the light from distant stars —which correspond to planets “transiting” between their host stars and the telescope’s lens — Kepler has discovered 135 confirmed planets and 3,548 planet candidates.
Scientists are still analyzing Kepler data in search of more exoplanets, including Earth-sized ones orbiting sunlike stars in the “habitable zone,” or at a distance where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface.
William Borucki, Kepler’s science principal investigator, said he expected scientists would find such signals from planets in the data Kepler has already collected.
“The best is yet to come,” NASA Astrophysics Division director Paul Hertz said.
Kepler ran into problems in July 2012 when one of the wheels that help the telescope focus on far-off stars stopped working. When a second wheel failed this May, Kepler could no longer seek out exoplanets, because the telescope needs three working wheels to control its movements in three separate axes. It has four wheels total.
Hertz said NASA would now do two studies to determine what operations are possible for Kepler and whether they would be worth funding.
© 2013 Star Tribune