NASA’s Kepler space telescope suffers malfunction

Last Updated: Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 10:12

Zee Media Bureau

Cape Canaveral (Florida): NASA announced on Wednesday that Kepler spacecraft, which was dispatched to hunt for Earth-like planets that may support life elsewhere in the universe, has been shut down due to the failure of one of the reaction wheels that keep it pointed.

NASA administrator John Grunsfeld was quoted as saying to a news agency: “I wouldn`t call Kepler down and out just yet”. He also added that scientists are working on the problem.

The spacecraft has four such wheels. One had failed previously; now two of them are inoperative. There is no way to control the pitch, roll and yaw of a spacecraft with just two reaction wheels.

In a statement, NASA said the problem had been detected on Tuesday, when the telescope went into a pre-programmed "safe mode" which kicks in "if the observatory has trouble knowing where it should point", Mr Grunsfeld was quoted saying to a news agency.

The telescope is orbiting about 40 million miles from Earth, too far for a robotic or astronaut-led repair mission, added John Grunsfeld, NASA`s associate administrator for science.

In addition to trying to get the failed wheel working, engineers and scientists will be looking for alternative ways of operating the telescope.

They also will assess if Kepler could be used for other types of astronomical observations which do not require such precise pointing.

Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 in search of Earth-like planets. So far, it has confirmed 132 planets and spotted more than 2,700 potential ones. While ground telescopes can hunt for exoplanets, Kepler is much more advanced. The spacecraft has identified 130 planets and 2,740 other candidates. The mission has cost USD 600 million so far.

Last month, astronomers announced Kepler`s discovery of two distant worlds that are the best candidates for habitable planets.

(With agencies inputs)

First Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 10:02

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