NASA’s Kepler spacecraft enters emergency mode and the future


Here we are, in April of 2016, two years after we all thought the Kepler was dead for sure. I do hope that they manage to bring the spacecraft back online as its been a fabulous tool and performed even better than we originally thought it would. That being said, I also hope that its finally dead. I hope its dead because then we might actually get the funding needed to build and launch TESS and later the Kepler 2.0. TESS is designed to scan the closest 200,000 star systems to us looking for earth like planets that might be able to support human life, its more sensitive than the original Kepler and also much faster. This would be a major boon to astronomers as it will give us a look at those planets that are close enough that we could reach them within a single human lifetime with the right spacecraft. These nearby worlds will be excellent targets for the JWST since the JWST should be able to do spectrographic analysis of those planets atmospheres, possibly finding the first potential colony sites outside of our solar system.

The Kepler 2.0 will have a much larger and much more sensitive detector, making it capable of scanning 1+ million stars simultaneously versus the 100,000 star limitation of the original Kepler. The Kepler 2.0 will also be able to be repaired and resupplied using robotic maintenance craft. That means that the reaction wheels, the fuel, the solar panels, batteries, the camera and the computer can all be replaced remotely allowing us to constantly upgrade the mission capabilities and giving it a potentially unlimited lifespan versus the 3 years that the original Kepler mission was designed for. Instead of looking at nearby star systems, Kepler 2.0 will instead focus on the rest of our Milky Way galaxy. Yes, its pie in the sky thinking to assume that we can ever reach star systems on the other side of our galaxy, but it will also give us a very accurate count of the planets that exist in our galaxy. The new Kepler mission will be a huge step up in our ability to detect exoplanets and with the ability to upgrade it, we can add new hardware that will one day allow us to detect planets in star systems that are not edge on to us.

The TESS mission is first in line and the least expensive of the two missions and it will give us the information we need to find potentially habitable planets close enough to us that we might one day colonize those planets using fusion powered spacecraft or some other similar means of propulsion that will allow us to reach 10-20% of the speed of light. The Kepler 2 is all about our future technology and where it will be 100-1000 years from now, assuming that we resolve the hurdles we face in building warp capable spacecraft, or we figure out how to build a hyperdrive within that time frame.