Kepler In Potentially Mission-Ending Trouble
The Kepler Space Telescope is currently in thruster-controlled safe mode and spinning slowly out of control. The Kepler management team aren't 100% sure what the route cause of the problem is, but strongly suspect it is a control wheel failure.
If it is indeed an issue with a control wheel, this could mark the beginning of the end for the spacecraft. Last July, Kepler experienced a fatal malfunction with another of its four control wheels, leaving the craft with the bare minimum of 3 fully-functional control wheels.
Should another of these vital parts malfunction, the craft will no longer be able to direct itself accurately enough to deliver the detailed images it was designed to gather.
Do not despair though, whilst the craft and the images it has produced have fascinated us all, it actually completed its mission in November 2012, meaning that everything we have received since then has come as a huge bonus.
The Kepler management team said in a statement that they were not intending to take any action just yet. They intend to spend the next few days to a week gathering as much data on the issue before deciding the craft's fate.
Kepler, cost $600m to launch in 2009, and since then it has provided data that have proved the basis on some stunning new theories on Earth-like planets. It was with Kepler's help that scientists now believe there to be almost 17 billion Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way. The craft has also helped discover a number of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy, the most exciting of which, Kepler 62f was discovered just a few weeks ago.
For the full NASA statement, please visit the NASA site: