We received good news last week! The Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters has invited the Kepler project to submit a funding proposal for a two-wheel mission to its 2014 Senior Review of operating missions. Dubbed K2, this new mission concept would repurpose the Kepler space telescope to continue the search for exoplanets, and introduce new science observation opportunities.
The biennial senior review process is conducted to assess the costs and benefits of extending the operation of missions that have completed their primary mission. NASA’s Astrophysics Division uses the results of this assessment in their allocation of scarce resources to maximize the scientific return on its mission investments.
The project will be extremely busy over the next seven weeks preparing the proposal, and will conduct pointing performance tests on the spacecraft to demonstrate the scientific merit of this new mode of operation. Proposals are due January 31, 2014 with a final decision about the future of a K2 mission expected by summer 2014.
The performance tests will include identifying the solar balance points along the spacecraft that will enable stable pointing in the ecliptic plane, the orbital path of Earth. The tests also will allow the team to observe the spacecraft behavior in this orientation and make adjustments to spacecraft operations for a K2 mission. The technique to control the pointing of the spacecraft using two wheels and the sun was previously described in A Sunny Outlook for NASA Kepler's Second Light.
With this invitation to submit a senior review proposal, the drumbeat continues for Kepler activity. Having just successfully hosted the second Kepler Science Conference at NASA Ames in early November, members of the team are preparing to present the latest results at the upcoming 223rd AAS Meeting in Washington DC in January 2014. In addition to several talks and posters, the team will also host a town hall meeting to share more on future plans for Kepler's original and K2 missions.
Meanwhile, the team continues to pour through the four years of data collected during the prime mission. More than a year of that data remains to be fully searched and analyzed—exciting discoveries await!
We look forward to seeing you in DC.