NASA’s Kepler space telescope

Kepler space telescope seen from underside

NASA’s Kepler space telescope

Some of Kepler’s discoveries include

  • Kepler exoplanet tally passes 1,000 – NASA’s Kepler space telescope’s count of exoplanets has passed the magic 1,000 mark, including eight new “habitable” planets and 544 candidate planets.
Kepler Mission Space Photometer

What’s the problem?
Kepler starts new mission – May 2013, two of the unmanned spacecraft’s four reaction wheels failed. These wheels are used to hold the telescope steady after the manner of a gyroscope. The engineers had designed Kepler so it could continue to function with one wheel out of commission, but two was beyond its limitations.

  • Ask – Was there a way to put Kepler back to work? Could engineers modify the spacecraft to do something useful, even if it was being used differently from the original design?
  • Imagine – NASA engineers came up with a workaround. They calculated that if Kepler was set in the right angle relative to its orbit, the pressure of the Sun’s light would push on it against the force of its remaining wheels and hold it steady in the same fashion as a ship’s correctly trimmed sails can hold it on course by balancing the force of the wind against the ship’s keel.
  • Design, Build – A test phase proved to be so successful that last May Kepler began its K2 mission
  • Improve

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