Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Despite a rest, Kepler’s problematic gyroscope is still having problems.
Three of the wheels are needed for Kepler’s 3.1-foot telescope to have enough sensitivity to detect the minuscule signatures of Earth-sized planets. In an exercise of caution, mission managers switched off Kepler’s reaction wheels for 10 days in January, hoping the break would redistribute lubricant inside the wheel assemblies, reducing friction and allowing the units to cool down.
But friction in wheel no. 4, which has showed friction for much of Kepler’s mission, actually increased in the month following the “wheel rest” period.
The telescope originally had four wheels. One has failed, with a second showing signs of failure. If it goes, the spacecraft will no longer be able to point with enough accuracy to do its primary mission. They might be able to use it to some observations, but its design is such that even these will be of limited value.