ready for launch
BY KULVINDER SINGH CHADHA
Posted: 23 February, 2009
The first space mission with the capability of finding Earth-like planets is ready for launch on 5 March at 15:48 GMT.
Kepler is ready for a 5 March launch.
“The planetary census Kepler takes will be very important for understanding the frequency of Earth-sized planets in our Galaxy and planning future missions that directly detect and characterize such worlds around nearby stars,” says Astrophysics Division Director Jon Morse at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C.
Kepler will search in this region of the Milky Way for Earth-like planets. Each rectangle represents a CCD element of Kepler's photometer. Image: Carter Roberts/Eastbay Astronomical Society.
Students in the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado in Boulder are being given the unique opportunity to helm the controls of Kepler after launch. “It's exciting to know our controllers will be the first people to see the data from Kepler, even if we are not involved in the analysis,” says LASP Mission Operations Director Bill Possel.
Thirty-six students and staff will be involved in a gruelling 24-hour, seven-day-a-week monitoring of the spacecraft for two months as it settles into an ‘Earth-trailing’ orbit around the Sun. Once Kepler is in its main, planet-seeking mode, the mission controllers will then contact the spacecraft twice a week for a ‘health check’. As Possel says, “This will be very demanding for the students. We are the first line of defence in monitoring the health of the spacecraft, and this check-out period will be critical.” As well as this close monitoring, Kepler will be pointed towards the Earth so that it can transmit data to LASP mission control via NASA’s Deep Space Network.
However few opportunities can be as satisfying as looking after a planet-seeking spacecraft. And afterwards, the students’ skills will be in high demand. As Hecht says, “With this kind of experience I'm hopeful I can eventually go to work for NASA or go directly into the space industry.”