Feeds

NASA shines a light on rehab plan for crocked Kepler probe

Looking where the Sun don't shine helps probe to get its act together

Seven Steps to Software Security

With Kepler a little wobbly on its pins, NASA has come up with an idea that will probably sound as if its scientists have reached for the sci-fi. But it's perfectly serious: the agency has tested the idea of using light pressure to help stabilise the spacecraft.

The sad ending to the original Kepler mission is well-known: it was able to function perfectly well with one of its reaction wheels (gyroscopes used to aim the craft) out of action, but when a second one failed, it could no longer be aimed with sufficient precision.

As NASA states here, the Sun is part of the problem: the pressure of a constant stream of photons is one of the things that pushes Kepler out of position and the reason it needs the reaction wheels for precise pointing.

However, the agency has also been reluctant to switch Kepler off, and instead, as noted by The Register earlier this month, has been looking for “K2” missions that can deliver science under Kepler's new constraints.

As part of its K2 planning, NASA's engineers (working with Ball Aerospace) have now successfully tested using the Sun's light pressure as a “third wheel” to help aim the spacecraft. In the test, they manoeuvred the spacecraft so that the Sun's pressure was evenly distributed across Kepler.

As NASA writes: “to achieve this level of stability, the orientation of the spacecraft must be nearly parallel to its orbital path around the sun, which is slightly offset from the ecliptic, the orbital plane of Earth.”

Kepler Stable Configuration

NASA illustration showing Kepler in a stable configuration

W Stenzel / NASA, detail from original here.

In the late October test, NASA says, the technique allowed Kepler to deliver results that were “within five per cent” of images taken with all four reaction wheels in operation.

NASA still has to get its K2 proposals past its budgetary masters. ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.