NASA plans to revive its Kepler space telescope that is involved in planet hunting, into a new mission, according to officials from NASA.
The telescope was initiated in 2009 with the mission to hunt for Earth-like planets, but the original planet-hunt telescope was derailed in May 2013 when the second of the four spacecraft's orientation-maintaining reaction wheels stopped working; and for a steady orientation, three wheels are required. Until now, Kepler worked by observing around 150,000 target stars for usual change in brightness and possible signs of planet passing by. The mission has been extremely successful in detecting over 3,800 potential exo-planets.
The first observations of the new mission, named K2, are scheduled to begin on 30 May. In its new mission, Kepler will observe targeted fields in the Earth's orbit, known as the ecliptic.
"The approval provides two years of funding for the K2 mission to continue exoplanet discovery, and introduces new scientific observation opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies, and supernovae. The team is currently finishing up an end-to-end shakedown of this approach with a full-length campaign (Campaign 0), and is preparing for Campaign 1, the first K2 science observation run, scheduled to begin 30 May." said Kepler Project Manager Charlie Sobeck, of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
NASA issued a proposal in August 2013 for the new Kepler mission, three months after the spacecraft lost its second positioning wheel. Currently, Kepler's operation and data analysis costs about $18 million annually.
"Good news from NASA HQ. The two-wheel operation mode of the Kepler spacecraft has been approved." Sobeck wrote in Kepler's website.