Kepler space observatory in trouble

The Kepler Space Telescope has had an amazing run, detecting an astounding number of exoplanets in its survey of the sky: 1,000 confirmed and 4,000 probable.  Then, technical problems seemed certain to doom it; it lost too many of its gyros to maintain the exceptionally fine precision required to conduct the searches it was designed to do.  But before it could be eaten by the budget monster, a team developed a proposal that saved it: the K2 mission, which would continue to use the Kepler with a lower degree of precision.  They have continued to find planets and to study many other things, since although it now lacks the precision for the really extensive planet searches, it’s still a damned good telescope.

Alas, something is amiss with Kepler again.  During a recent communications pass, mission controllers discovered that the spacecraft was in emergency mode, and burning hydrazine propellant to maintain that orientation.  The commanded operation prior to this was a flip maneuver, to reorient the telescope to begin surveying a different part of the sky.  Mission controllers’ priority right now is getting it back into normal operations, and at this time do not know how long that will take.

Keep your fingers crossed!


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