Planet-Hunting Probe Scheduled To Launch In 2009
NASA's planet-hunting Kepler
mission, scheduled to launch in 2009, has survived an extreme
The thermal vacuum test is part of a series of environmental
tests the spacecraft will undergo before it blasts into space
aboard a Delta II rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,
"Kepler functioned extremely well at the intense temperatures it
will encounter in space," said James Fanson, Kepler project manager
at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
The test, which was performed at Ball Aerospace &
Technologies Corp. in Boulder, CO simulates the vacuum of space,
and the extreme temperatures Kepler will face once launched. The
spacecraft is tucked into a vacuum chamber and surrounded by a cold
shroud to mimic the deep chill of space. One side of the spacecraft
-- the side with solar panels -- is then baked as if it were being
heated by the sun.
The goal is to make sure that the spacecraft and its detectors
operate properly in the space-like environment. An electromagnetic
compatibility test, to ensure Kepler's electronics are sound, will
Kepler will monitor 100,000 stars, searching for signs of
planets -- including ones as small as or smaller than Earth. To
date, no Earth-sized planet has been discovered.
"The results of these tests are now being used to prepare for
the science operations that will start after the spacecraft
launches and undergoes in-orbit checkout," said Bill Borucki of
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, the science principal
investigator for the Kepler Mission.
Kepler is a NASA Discovery mission. In addition to being the
home organization of the science principal investigator, NASA Ames
Research Center is responsible for the ground system development,
mission operations and science data analysis. Kepler mission
development is managed by JPL. Ball Aerospace & Technologies
Corp. is responsible for developing the Kepler flight system and
supporting mission operations.