kepler to begin round two
May 18, 2014

Kepler Spacecraft To Resume Operations In Newly Approved K2 Mission

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Believed to be retired for good after breaking down last year, the Kepler spacecraft has been revived and will be part of a newly-approved NASA mission to seek out new exoplanets while also expanding its role into the realm of astrophysical observations, the US space agency revealed on Friday.

“The team received good news from NASA HQ – the K2 mission, the two-wheel operation mode of the Kepler spacecraft observing in the ecliptic, has been approved based on a recommendation from the agency’s 2014 Senior Review of its operating missions,” said Kepler Deputy Project Manager Charlie Sobeck in a statement.

“The approval provides two years of funding for the K2 mission to continue exoplanet discovery, and introduces new scientific observation opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae,” he added.

Kepler, which was launched in 2009, was a $600 million project that discovered more than half of all known planets orbiting nearby stars – a total of nearly 1,000 different worlds, according to National Geographic’s Dan Vergano. Unfortunately, malfunctions suffered in 2013 made it impossible for NASA officials to accurately point the telescope in three dimensions, making it appear as though its usefulness had come to an end.

However, mission managers recently developed a new plan to utilize solar winds in order to help keep Kepler on course, and submitted a two-year, $20 million proposal for the K2 mission through the agency’s 2014 Senior Review Process. They won approval thanks in part of a February demonstration of the new Kepler steering plan, which proved to be accurate enough to convince NASA officials of the mission’s merits.

“The K2 mission offers long-term, simultaneous optical observation of thousands of objects at a precision far better than is achievable from ground-based telescopes,” Sobeck and his colleagues wrote in a study detailing the results of that demonstration.

“Ecliptic fields will be observed for approximately 75-days enabling a unique exoplanet survey which fills the gaps in duration and sensitivity between the Kepler and TESS missions, and offers pre-launch exoplanet target identification for JWST transit spectroscopy,” they added. “Astrophysics observations with K2 will include studies of young open clusters, bright stars, galaxies, supernovae, and asteroseismology.”

Sobeck said that the Kepler team is currently close to completing a full-length trial campaign (Campaign 0) to work out any kinks and ensure that their new approach works as expected. They are preparing for the start of the first K2 science observation run, known as Campaign 1, which is scheduled to begin on May 30.