Kepler Mission Update: Wheels Are Spinning Like Whoa Up in There
Hooray! Friction analysis for everybody!
A little more than two months after the Kepler spacecraft’s necessary minimum of wheels stopped spinning and died, NASA is now reporting some good news: While one of the wheels is still too damaged to move properly, the other wheel responded to test commands and spun in both directions. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before it’s back up and running, ready to find more planets we might live on once we’ve sucked ours dry of resources.
The Kepler mission, you’ll remember, is part of NASA’s efforts to find planets beyond Earth that fall into the “Goldilocks zone” — meaning that they’re the right distance away from a star to able to hold liquid water. To do this, the spacecraft detects faint periodic dimming in starlight, which occurs when a planet transits the face of its host star. However, it needs to be perfectly still and totally precise in order to work properly.
The initial exploratory recovery tests first began on July 18th and continued on Monday. Engineers will study the results of the test over the next two weeks and decide what to do from there. While both wheels can move in some capacity, it’s ultimately the friction that each wheel generates which will need to be addressed. Too much friction from the reaction wheels can cause the spacecraft to vibrate, which severely impacts its ability to focus on its target stars.
Of course, this all might be moot in a few years, as NASA’s upcoming planet hunter TESS is set to launch in 2017. Still, we can’t help but root for Kepler to return back to work as soon as it can.