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NASA fixes Kepler, sort of, puts the spacecraft back on planet hunting duty
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) May 19, 2013

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

NASA's Kepler spacecraft -- a satellite launched in 2009 and tasked with scanning space for Earth-like planets orbiting around distant stars -- has been out of commission for almost a year.

But scientists at NASA recently came up with a temporary fix, and a jury-rigged Kepler is preparing to be put back on the job.

The spacecraft lost maneuverability in spring of last year after two of its four wheels broke. Its wheels were central in stabilizing Kepler's imaging instrumentation and pointing it in the right direction. With only two, Kepler spins out of control.

"The approval provides two years of funding for the K2 mission to continue exoplanet discovery, and introduces new scientific observation opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies, and supernovae," Kepler Project Manager Charlie Sobeck said in a statement.

Beginning at the end of the month, scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, will have the go-ahead to begin their next Kepler mission.

The craft will be positioned in such a way that pressure from the sun's rays keep the observatory stable. Kepler will only be able to work for 80-odd days at a time, after which it will have to be momentarily rotated to protect the imaging lens from direct sunlight.

Kepler's sole instrument is a called a photometer. It continually monitors the stars of a certain brightness, and periodically transmits its data to Earth.

Since its launch, Kepler as detected more than 3,800 potential exoplanets, and 960 of these have been confirmed by NASA scientists. That means more than half of all known alien planets have been discovered by Kepler.


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