The Kepler Spacecraft has found more planets than any other mission in history. After completing it’s primary mission it experienced reaction wheel failures during an extended life mission and could no longer perform the primary job of finding new planets. The spacecraft needs at least three reaction wheels in order to point with the accuracy needed for planet hunting. This was a real loss to the planet hunting community as Kepler was specifically designed for this task. Being resourceful engineers designed a new mission and new methods to point the spacecraft using only he two remaining reaction wheels. The engineering involved to execute this new mission has now been thoroughly reviewed and NASA has approved a new mission for Kepler, reinvigorating the hunt for planets outside our own solar system.
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.
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. The 2014 Senior Review report is available at http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/documents.
K2 will observe target fields along the ecliptic plane, the orbital path of planets in our solar system also know as the zodiac, for approximately 75-day campaigns. For those interested in not just finding planets, but also finding planets that in theory could hold potential for life outside of Earth this is excellent news, We look forward to even more news of exoplanets discovered during this new mission. Kepler data will also be used for other future missions like the James Web Space telescope, helping narrow the targets future observatories will target for research.