NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope launched back in March of 2009, and it soon found scads of exoplanets, some of them even potentially habitable. To date, it’s found 122 confirmed exoplanets and 2,740 potential ones. Kepler completed its three and a half year mission last November, so all the data we’ve been getting from the $600 million project since then has been gravy.
Unfortunately, a malfunction has likely shut down the gravy pipe. Tell Abigail Mae she can cease bending over.
This story actually began last July when one of Kepler’s four reaction wheels broke down. The spacecraft requires at least three functional wheels, so NASA was nervous about any further failures. But on May 14th, as the Kepler Team went about its usual business of making contact with the space telescope, they found it in safe mode, slowing spinning about the sun-line. And to their horror, they could not regain control of the spacecraft. Further analysis revealed that yet another reaction wheel had failed. [io9]
NASA will probably move Kepler into Point Rest State, meaning it will maintain constant communication but will likely not be accurate enough to continue hunting for exoplanets. Repairing Kepler from orbit is not practical. Only one thing can sum up our feelings…