Ames to pitch NASA on value of ‘new’ Kepler mission
By Stephen Clark
Posted: 16 November 2013
Managers in charge of the Kepler telescope have identified a way of salvaging the crippled observatory for a modified, less-sensitive cosmic survey for alien worlds, but NASA may not have the money to pay for the mission.
Since Kepler was knocked offline in May, officials at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California have considered and analyzed new missions for the telescope.
And they think they have found a concept that is both feasible and scientifically intriguing.
The new mission scenario, dubbed “K2,” calls for pointing Kepler across a swath of sky known as the ecliptic plane, or the plane where all the solar system’s planets orbit the sun.
If approved by NASA Headquarters, the renewed Kepler campaign would be a shift from looking at stars like the sun to observing smaller, cooler stars that may harbor rocky planets close in, meaning they would be easier to detect.
“This is science that Kepler can do, and the K2 mission can do this uniquely, so this is really a selling point,” said Steve Howell, Kepler’s project scientist, during a Nov. 4 presentation at the second Kepler Science Conference held at Ames.
Plagued by reaction wheels and unable to adequately control its roll motion, Kepler is no longer capable of holding its gaze toward a field of more than 150,000 stars in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Kepler’s optical detectors kept up a near-contant stare at the star field, which was selected because it was representative of the rest of the Milky Way, allowing scientists to extend their findings predict what may lie elsewhere in the sky.
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