Artist’s concept of Kepler in action. NASA/Kepler mission/Wendy Stenzel.

Kepler Spacecraft Back in Action After Reaction Wheel Problem

by NANCY ATKINSON on JANUARY 30, 2013

There has been some concern about the Kepler spacecraft after one of the devices that provide the ability for super-precise pointing began misbehaving. Reaction wheels are devices which aim a spacecraft in different directions without firing rockets or jets, which reduces the amount of fuel a spacecraft needs; Kepler has four of them. Earlier this year, elevated friction was detected in reaction wheel #4, and so as a precaution for wheel safety, and as a measure to mitigate the friction, the reaction wheels were spun down to zero-speed and the spacecraft was placed in a thruster-controlled safe mode.

But now after a “rest” of the wheels for ten days, Kepler has now returned to science data collection beginning on January 28, 2013, and reaction wheel #4 seems to be operating normally, for now. During the 10-day resting safe mode, daily health and status checks with the spacecraft using NASA’s Deep Space Network were normal.

This is of special concern because last year, reaction wheel #2 failed. Kepler scientists say the spacecraft needs at least three wheels must operate until at least 2016 for Kepler to achieve its prime objective of finding Earth-like planets around sun-like stars. Last year, NASA approved an extended mission for Kepler through 2016, and so a lot is riding on the health of the spacecraft’s reaction wheels.

Read more: Kepler Spacecraft Back in Action After Reaction Wheel Problem — Universe Today.

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