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NASA's K2 mission: The Kepler Space Telescope's Second Chance to Shine

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  • NASA's K2 mission: The Kepler Space Telescope's Second Chance to Shine

    The engineers huddled around a telemetry screen, and the mood was tense. They were watching streams of data from a crippled spacecraft more than 50 million miles away -- so far that even at the speed of light, it took nearly nine minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.
    It was late August 2013, and the group of about five employees at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, was waiting for NASA's Kepler space telescope to reveal whether it would live or die. A severe malfunction had robbed the planet-hunting Kepler of its ability to stay pointed at a target without drifting off course.
    The engineers had devised a remarkable solution: using the pressure of sunlight to stabilize the spacecraft so it could continue to do science. Now, there was nothing more they could do but wait for the spacecraft to reveal its fate.
    "You're not watching it unfold in real time," said Dustin Putnam, Ball's attitude control lead for Kepler. "You're watching it as it unfolded a few minutes ago, because of the time the data takes to get back from the spacecraft."
    Finally, the team received the confirmation from the spacecraft they had been waiting for. The room broke out in cheers. The fix worked! Kepler, with a new lease on life, was given a new mission as K2. But the biggest surprise was yet to come. A space telescope with a distinguished history of discovering distant exoplanets -- planets orbiting other stars -- was about to outdo even itself, racking up hundreds more discoveries and helping to usher in entirely new opportunities in astrophysics research.
    "Many of us believed that the spacecraft would be saved, but this was perhaps more blind faith than insight," said Tom Barclay, senior research scientist and director of the Kepler and K2 guest observer office at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. "The Ball team devised an ingenious solution allowing the Kepler space telescope to shine again."

    More here.
    Credo quia absurdum.

    Quantum mechanics describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And yet it fully agrees with experiment. So I hope you can accept nature as She is - absurd! - Richard Feynman

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