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Astronomy

Kepler Mission seeks new science ideas

SPIE Newsroom
28 August

The Kepler Mission, a project seeking to find habitable, terrestrial planets, was launched in March 2009 and represented NASA's first search for Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars.

The Kepler spacecraft was designed to run for six years, but due to the loss of two of its four reaction wheels over an eight-month period, NASA has decided to change the mission's focus and see if the Kepler Mission can be repurposed for other science goals.

In a plenary talk at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, Jon Jenkins, the Kepler Mission analysis lead at the SETI Institute, announced NASA's call for ideas for what the Kepler space telescope might be used for in the future. NASA has detailed this request in a call for white papers (see link below). Suggestions are due 3 September.

Despite the setback caused by the malfunction of the reaction wheels, the Kepler Mission is far from over, Jenkins noted in an interview with SPIE Newsroom (above). There is still the tremendous amount of data collected over the last four years for researcher to go through.

"Nobody has ever collected four years of data on 190,000 stars," said Jenkins. "This is a treasure trove of data that will keep the planetary science community and the astrophysicists busy for many years, if not decades, to come."

The collected papers will be evaluated and a set of ideas taken to NASA headquarters with the intention of designing a science program that would warrant the continued operation of the Kepler Mission.