If NASA has anything to say about it, Kepler is down, but not out. At a press teleconference on Thursday it announced that it has abandoned efforts to repair the damaged unmanned probe, which was designed to search for extrasolar planets and is no longer steady enough to continue its hunt. But the space agency is looking into alternative missions for the spacecraft based on its remaining capabilities.
The announcement that Kepler would not resume its original operations was made by Paul Hertz, NASA astrophysics director. However, work will continue over the coming months on sorting out the spacecraft’s remaining capabilities and determining what tasks they’d be suited for.
Kepler completed its four-year primary mission in November 2012 and was at the beginning of its extended mission when two of its four reaction wheels, which help it to maintain attitude, failed. The first went in July 2012, but Kepler was designed with a redundancy factor, so this did not affect operations. However, the loss of a second reaction wheel last May was more than the probe could handle and it was placed in a rest state while engineers worked to determine if the craft was salvageable.
Astronomers have taken the sharpest-ever photos of the night sky in visible light, using a telescope in Chile and a new camera and "adaptive optics" system that cancels out the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere.