NASA funds next phase for planet-finding satellite
Posted: October 28, 2002

An artist's concept of Kepler. Credit: NASA
NASA awarded a contract today, with a potential value of $28.4 million, to Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp. (BATC), Boulder, Colo. for development of the optics and detectors for a high-tech camera for the Kepler planet- finding spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2007.

Eastman Kodak will provide the entire optical subsystem for the spacecraft, a contract valued at $4.5 million for a two-year period. Kodak is providing a unique optical subsystem for Kepler. Nothing similar has ever been flown in space. The two-piece system enables an extremely wide field of view, allowing Kepler to continuously gaze at more than 100,000 stars at the same time.

Other major subcontractors are Semiconductor Technology Associates in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and EV2 of Elmsford, N.Y., who are providing detectors for Kepler.

The Kepler Mission differs from previous ways of looking for planets, which have led to the discovery of about 100 giant Jupiter-sized planets. Kepler will look for the "transit" signature that occurs each time a planet crosses the line-of-sight between a planet's parent star, the one it orbits, and the observer. During the orbital "transit," the planet blocks some of the light from its parent star resulting in periodic dimming. This periodic signature is used to detect the planet and to determine its size and orbit. Kepler will be able to determine if any Earth-sized planets make a transit across any of the stars.

"With its cutting-edge capability, Kepler may help us answer one of the most enduring questions humans have asked throughout history: 'are there other planets like Earth in the universe?'" said principal investigator William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., leader of the mission.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Kepler project for the Office of Space Science, Washington. NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif., contracts with BATC for the Kepler photometer.

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