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Crippled space telescope given second life, new mission
by Staff Writers
Greenbelt, Md. (UPI) Nov 28, 2013


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

NASA says it has successfully revived its crippled Kepler Space Telescope and may give it a new mission of searching the skies.

In its new mission Kepler would resume its task of searching for other worlds, and would have new opportunities to observe star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae, the space agency reported.

In May, the second of Kepler's four gyroscope-like reaction wheels that operate to precisely point the spacecraft failed, ending new data collection for the original mission.

Without at least three operating reactions wheels the spacecraft can no longer precisely point at the mission's original field of view, scientists said -- and the culprit our own sun.

Photons that give Kepler electrical power by striking solar cells also push the spacecraft around, and without the wheels to counteract this solar pressure the spacecraft's pointing cannot be accurately controlled.

However, engineers have managed to recovering some of that pointing stability by reorienting the spacecraft so that the solar pressure is evenly distributed across its surfaces.

During testing of the new procedure, light collected from a distant star field produced an image quality within five percent of the primary mission's image parameters, the engineers said.

Additional testing is underway to demonstrate the ability to maintain this level of pointing control for days and weeks.

"This 'second light' image provides a successful first step in a process that may yet result in new observations and continued discoveries from the Kepler space telescope," said Charlie Sobeck, Kepler deputy project manager at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

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