Feeds

NASA: Our ALIEN HUNTING star-scan 'scope is KNACKERED

Planet-spotter not spinning its wheels in space

Intelligent flash storage arrays

In a press conference on Wednesday, NASA warned that its Kepler orbital telescope, which has had much success in spotting Earth-sized planets, may be on its last legs after a serious equipment failure.

The telescope relies on four spinning reaction wheels to keep it aligned on target, and one failed last year. Now another has gone on the blink, leaving the craft spinning in space. The telescope is now in "safe mode," pointed at the sun to power its solar panels but rotating, meaning that it occasionally loses contact with mission control.

"We attempted to return to reaction wheel control as the spacecraft rotated into communication, and commanded a stop rotation," said the Kepler team in a statement.

"Initially, it appeared that all three wheels responded and that rotation had been successfully stopped, but reaction wheel 4 remained at full torque while the spin rate dropped to zero. This is a clear indication that there has been an internal failure within the reaction wheel, likely a structural failure of the wheel bearing."

The telescope can still be controlled using thrusters, but that chews fuel and there's only enough left on board for a few months of orientation. In the meantime, the thrusters can be used to ensure continuous communication with Earth while scientists try to fix the problem.

The Kepler team has been granted extra time on NASA's Deep Space Network to communicate with the telescope, and over the next few weeks will try to jury-rig a system that uses the remaining reaction wheels and the thrusters to regain control. If that isn’t possible, the telescope will be shut down.

"With the failure of a second reaction wheel, it's unlikely that the spacecraft will be able to return to the high pointing accuracy that enables its high-precision photometry. However, no decision has been made to end data collection," the team said.

Kepler was launched in 2009 and completed its primary mission last year. However, such was its success in spotting exoplanets that NASA received extra funding to keep the mission going.

To date it has discovered over 100 Earth-sized planets and thousands of unconfirmed possible candidates, some of which could be capable of supporting life as we know it. More could yet be found as scientists pick through the data the craft has sent back. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.