Kepler team has some succes in reaction wheel recovery attempt

Jul 26, 2013 by Nancy Atkinson
A diagram of the Kepler space telescope. Credit: NASA

In May of this year, the Kepler planet-hunting telescope lost its ability to precisely point toward stars, putting its exoplanet search in jeopardy. Two of the four reaction wheels failed, and Kepler scientists say the spacecraft needs at least three reaction wheels to be able to point precisely enough to continue the mission. In the latest update from Kepler, mission manager Roger Hunter says that the team has made a little headway and had initial success in testing the two failed reaction wheels. But the big test will come later to see how much friction the two wheels generate with continued use.

On Thursday, July 18, 2013 the team initiated recovery tests on the spacecraft's two failed wheels in order to characterize how the two wheels (Reaction Wheels (RW) 4 and 2) operated and to determine if either could be returned to full use.

RW4 did not spin in the positive (or clockwise) direction but the wheel did spin in the negative (or counterclockwise) direction. Wheel 4 is thought to be the more seriously damaged of the two, Hunter said.

Then, on Monday, July 22 the team tested RW2, and that wheel responded positively to test commands and spun in both directions.

"Over the next two weeks, engineers will review the data from these tests and consider what steps to take next," Hunter said. "Although both wheels have shown motion, the friction levels will be critical in future considerations. The details of the wheel friction are under analysis."

Too much friction from the reaction wheels can cause vibration and impact the pointing precision of the .

Kepler has found over 2,700 planetary candidates, with 130 confirmed planets, from the size of Earth's moon to larger than Jupiter. There are two years of data that has yet to be combed through to detect the faint periodic dimming of distant starlight – the telltale sign of a planet transiting the face of its host star.

Still, the loss of Kepler would be a blow to the search for planets orbiting other stars. Earlier this year, Kepler team members said if the could no longer do planet-hunting, there's a chance it could do something else , such as asteroid hunting or other astronomical observations…just something that doesn't need as precise ability for pointing.

Explore further: A new approach in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence: targeting alien polluters

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Engineers Assess Dawn's Reaction Wheel

Jun 30, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Engineers are studying the reaction wheels on NASA's Dawn spacecraft after automatic sensors detected excess friction building up in one of them and powered it off early on the morning of ...

Dawn Engineers Assess Reaction Wheel

Aug 14, 2012

Engineers working on NASA's Dawn spacecraft are assessing the status of a reaction wheel -- part of a system that helps the spacecraft point precisely -- after onboard software powered it off on Aug. 8. ...

Shark Wheel on a roll to reinvent skateboarder experience

Jun 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —A California-based company has a new kind of wheel for skateboards that delivers a novel shape and claims a special ride experience. This is the Shark Wheel, not circular, not square, but something ...

Recommended for you

Satellite galaxies put astronomers in a spin

5 hours ago

An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg), has studied 380 galaxies and shown that their small satellite galaxies almost always ...

Video: The diversity of habitable zones and the planets

5 hours ago

The field of exoplanets has rapidly expanded from the exclusivity of exoplanet detection to include exoplanet characterization. A key step towards this characterization is the determination of which planets occupy the Habitable ...

Ultra-deep astrophoto of the Antenna Galaxies

5 hours ago

You might think the image above of the famous Antenna Galaxies was taken by a large ground-based or even a space telescope. Think again. Amateur astronomer Rolf Wahl Olsen from New Zealand compiled a total ...

The most precise measurement of an alien world's size

7 hours ago

Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, ...

User comments : 0