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article imageNASA to attempt fix for stricken Kepler Observatory

By Jordan Howell     Jul 6, 2013 in Science
NASA announced on Wednesday that it will attempt to revive the ailing Kepler Space Observatory by mid-to-late July, but engineers warn that the recovery attempt is not a sure thing.
The spacecraft has not collected any scientific data since May 15 when a second reaction wheel failed. The spacecraft requires at least three operational reaction wheels to keep its instruments focused on distant stars.
“The engineering team has devised initial tests for the recovery attempt and is checking them on the spacecraft test bed at the Ball Aerospace facility in Boulder, Colo. The team anticipates that exploratory commanding of Kepler’s reaction wheels will commence mid-to-late July. The Kepler spacecraft will remain in PRS until and during the tests,” wrote Roger Hunter, Kepler mission manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, in a press release.
Currently, the spacecraft is in an energy-conserving mode known as Point Rest State. Hunter also noted that adjustments have been made to improve fuel efficiency and reduce the risk of the spacecraft going back into safe-mode.
If the engineers cannot fix the reaction wheels, or find some other way to keep the spacecraft pointed at distant stars, it could spell the end of NASA’s wildly popular mission which just last week announced nearly 2,000 new Kepler Objects of Interest, or stars that are likely to have a planetary system.
Launched in 2009, Kepler's primary mission is to find terrestrial, Earth-like planets orbiting in the habitable zone of their parent stars.
Kepler itself orbits our sun at approximately the same distance as Earth. NASA has described its orbit as “earth trailing” with an orbital period of 372 days.
To date, Kepler has confirmed 134 planets and identified 3,277 planet candidates that await verification.
Kepler detects planet candidates when they transit between their host star and Kepler’s field of vision, causing a slight decrease in starlight brightness. The amount the brightness decreases is then used to measure the size of the planet-candidate.
The Kepler mission has cost US $600 million. It was designed to operate until 2013 but just last year the mission was extended for three more years to 2016.
More about NASA, Kepler, Habitable planets, Kepler space telescope, Kepler Mission
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