NASA Prepares Recovery Plan for Kepler Planet Hunter

July 4th, 2013

Launched in March 2009, NASA’s Kepler space telescope soon became the most prolific alien planet hunter ever.

Artist's illustration of Kepler planet hunter. Image Credit/NASA

The search has so far produced just under 3,300 candidate planets, among them representatives of the mission’s ultimate goal — Earth-like planets circling within the “habitable zones” of their host stars. Habitable zone means a realm temperate enough to allow for water in its liquid state.

However, Kepler’s extended mission ground to a halt in May with the failure of a second reaction wheel. Kepler launched with four of the spinning wheels that allow the telescope to be precisely aimed without using spacecraft thrusters. It was Kepler’s second reaction wheel failure and the loss left the observatory one short of the number needed to aim the telescope.

It’s been more than 50 days since Kepler has made a scientific investigation.

On Wednesday, however, Kepler’s mission management team unveiled plans to attempt a recovery in mid to late July. In the meantime, the strategy is undergoing an evaluation at Ball Aerospace inColorado Springs.

The observatory is named for Johannes Kepler, a 16th Century German mathematician and astronomer.