NASA has all sorts of payloads in orbit. Most are low profile research projects, usually monitoring Earth from above. That’s not Kepler.
The Kepler Space Telescope orbits the Sun, just like we do. Its $600,000,000 mission is finding habitable distant planets! It is among NASA’s highest profile missions.
Here’s a typical Kepler discovery:
NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered a new planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star like our sun, approximately 210 light-years away in the constellation Lyra.
Kepler has broken. The telescope is fine, but Kepler has lost its ability to steadily point a tiny piece of space. These are long exposures. Perfectly still is required.
As designed, stability is provided by reaction wheels. They’re motor driven flywheels which position the spacecraft gyroscopically. Kepler needs three. Only two of the four on-board are working.
Unlike Hubble, Kepler can’t be serviced by astronauts. The Shuttle is gone. Kepler’s heliocentric orbit makes it unreachable anyway.
NASA is not optimistic.
with the failure of a second reaction wheel, it’s unlikely that the spacecraft will be able to return to the high pointing accuracy that enables its high-precision photometry. However, no decision has been made to end data collection.
Kepler had successfully completed its primary three-and-a-half year mission and entered an extended mission phase in November 2012.
Even if data collection were to end, the mission has substantial quantities of data on the ground yet to be fully analyzed, and the string of scientific discoveries is expected to continue for years to come.
It’s just a shame to lose the hardware. The hope is always they run forever. Not this time.