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Kepler Gets an Extended Mission

4 Apr 2012, 19:53 UTC
Kepler Gets an Extended Mission
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The NASA Senior Review panel decisions are in. The panel assessed Kepler and several other astrophysics missions including Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Spitzer Space Telescope, XMM-Newton, Swift, Planck, Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope,and Suzaku. This is to evaluate the missions and decide if they should be renewed or approved for an extended mission. For Kepler, having launched in March 2009, the spacecraft is over 3 years old. The primary mission was to last 3.5 years with the goal to find and constrain the frequency of rocky planets and in particular Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone (the region around the star where liquid water could exist on a planet with an atmosphere similar to the Earth’s) of solar-type stars.
Kepler has been a spectacular success finding a treasure trove of over 2000 planet candidates in the first 16 months of data (Quarters 1-6), and revolutionized our understanding of planetary systems. But the Earth-sized planets are proving tricky because stars are much more variable than the Sun. This was unexpected,so instead of taking 3 years to confidently identify Earth-sized and smaller planets it will take 3 more years beyond the nominal mission. For NASA missions, you’re given the time you ...

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