I have some extremely unfortunate
news for y’all today. It appears the Kepler Space Telescope as experienced a career-ending malfunction.
Kepler has been in the news a lot recently in an
extremely positive way. By in large the Kepler mission is one of NASA’s most successful. The probe, affectionately known as the planet hunter,
has catalogued nearly 3000 planetary candidates in its search for Earth-like worlds. Now, it seems like Kepler has come to the end of its useful life.
What’s the problem? Kepler seems to have lost the second of its four reactionary wheels. Kepler needs at least three reaction wheels to allow it to obtain
that steady stare required for deep space observations. Now that Kepler is down to only two of these wheels, it would be unable to hold that steady gaze. NASA
engineers are still trouble shooting the problem, but most of the solutions available to them are “turn it off and turn it back on” type solutions. At the
press conference that happened moments ago, the engineers didn’t seem too hopeful and painted a bleak future for the orbiting treasure.
currently trailing the Earth and is in orbit around the Sun, at the moment, the telescope is near the opposite side of our local star. Even if we had access to
the Space Shuttle (or a Space Shuttle-like craft), we would be unable to reach the telescope to perform repairs for several months; even then, Kepler isn’t
designed to be serviced in orbit, so it’s uncertain whether such a repair mission is possible.
Kepler’s mission started in 2009 and was originally
scheduled to last 3.5 years – which it completed last year. We’ve been on borrowed time on the telescope; it appears the well designed scope has finally broken
down. Even then, Kepler still has a plethora of data scientists need to sort through – so it’s scientific contributions are far from over. In addition,
scientists could find another use for the telescope that doesn’t require the prolonged stare required for long-term observations. Then again, scientists might
yet fix Kepler and bring the reactionary wheel back online – but that seems unlikely.
I hate to give up hope, but I think it’s time to pay homage to
Kepler and the momentous contribution it has made in the way of exoplanets research.
The Kepler Space Telescope:
The Transit Method: Finding Other Worlds:
A Closer Look at
Kepler’s New Candidates for Habitability
Kepler Findings Released:
Kepler Announcement: 1 in 6 Stars Host Earth-Like
Sources and further reading:
Thoughts on the (possible) death of Kepler:
Malfunction could mark the end of NASA’s Kepler Mission