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

The next step in data 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. ®

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
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.