NASA’s Ailing Kepler Spacecraft Could Hunt Alien Planets Once More with New Mission
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer | November 27, 2013 06:00am ET
NASA’s hobbled Kepler space telescope may be able to detect alien planets again, thanks to some creative troubleshooting.
Kepler’s original planet hunt ended this past May when the second of its four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels failed, robbing the spacecraft of its ultraprecise pointing ability. But mission team members may have found a way to restore much of this lost capacity, suggesting that a proposed new mission called K2 could be doable for Kepler.
Engineers with the Kepler mission and Ball Aerospace, which built the telescope, have oriented the spacecraft such that it’s nearly parallel to its path around the sun. In this position, the pressure exerted by sunlight is spread evenly across Kepler’s surfaces, minimizing drift.
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