November 25, 2013
You may have thought that NASA’s Kepler spacecraft was finished. Well, think again. A repurposed Kepler Space telescope may soon start searching the sky again.
A new mission concept, dubbed K2, would continue Kepler’s search for other worlds, and introduce new opportunities to observe star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae.
In May, the Kepler spacecraft lost the second of four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, ending new data collection for the original mission. The spacecraft required three functioning wheels to maintain the precision pointing necessary to detect the signal of small Earth-sized exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, orbiting stars like our sun in what’s known as the habitable zone — the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of a planet might be suitable for liquid water.
With the failure of a second reaction wheel, the spacecraft can no longer precisely point at the mission’s original field of view. The culprit is none other than our own sun.