NASA Researching Possible Fix for the Kepler Exoplanet Mission

A new fix could see Kepler resume it missions focused on exoplanet exploration. 

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In a recent announcement, NASA engineers stated that the agency’s exoplanet hunting satellite might regain all of its functions; which is great news for NASA after the highly publicized failures that cut the mission short earlier this year.

Since May 11, 2013, NASAs Kepler mission has been incapable of performing its principle duty of searching for exoplanets due to failures associated with two of its four gyroscopic reaction wheels. While the satellite does have two remaining reaction wheels, a third is necessary to accurately point the telescope’s sensitive imaging equipment at a target.

The necessity of a third reaction wheel relates back to our Sun’s ability to push the satellite by means of solar radiation. The third reaction wheel essentially acts as a counterbalance, pushing back against the effects of the sun.

With that info in mind, engineers at Ball Aerospace have developed a solution that uses the sun’s radiation as a surrogate for the third wheel.  By positioning the craft so that the sun’s radiation can evenly strike Kepler’s body, a strong sense of control can be garnered from the otherwise ailing craft.

At the moment, NASA engineers are at work testing Ball Aerospace’s solar hack. According to initial reports it appears that the idea might work. Last month, NASA used the method to capture an image whose quality was within 5 percent of Kepler’s original performance.

With numbers like those, you can bet that Kepler will begin scanning the skies for exoplanets in the very near future. The hope being that with more exoplanet data flooding in from the satellite, it’ll only be a matter of time before we stumble across an earth-like rock rounding a distant star.

Image Courtesy of NASA