NASA Kepler and K2

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312 - NASA

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The Kepler spacecraft was launched in April of 2009 with the mission to search for Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars, and for 17 quarters, the spacecraft fulfilled this goal, confirming more than 1,028 exoplanets.

In May of 2013, the Kepler Mission science operations were halted due to the failing of two of the spacecraft's reaction wheels, which meant that the spacecraft could no longer maintain the fine precision photometry necessary for Earth-size planet detection. But the Kepler story did not end there.

In fall of 2013, Kepler and Ball Aerospace team members devised a repurposed mission, one that proposed a two-wheel operation mode. This new mission, named K2, was approved in June of 2014 by the NASA headquarters Astrophysics Senior Review.

The Kepler K2 mission reinvigorates the high precision photometry capability of the Kepler Space Telescope, by allowing it to accurately point at target sky fields along the ecliptic (the plane of Earth's orbit). The mission began its Field 1 campaign of observing on 2014 May 30, and as of July 23 was observing in campaign 6.