Category: Research

The paper will give a report on Kepler mission of discovering terrestrial planets, which are one-half,or twice the size of the planet earth. The report will give an overview of the Discovery mission designed to explore some section of the galaxy to determine dozens of planets that have the size close to the planet earth and further establish how many such planets are exiting in the billion stars within our galaxy. In details, the report will cover on Kepler's approach adopted to execute the mission, the mission's objective, and the details on the spacecraft constructions, mission's results, and the organizing structure of the mission. 

Kepler was German astronomy who was behind the discovery of the three primary laws of planetary motion. The laws explain three aspects, first, planets orbits with the sun at one axis, secondly, the time was taken to traverse the planetary axis in proportion to the area of the sector between the planet Central and the arc. Thirdly, the squares of the planet, periodic time and the cubes of the radii of their orbits have an exact relationship. Kepler is regarded as the father of astronomy because he developed a notion of physical astronomy, which provided important solutions to other World -system builder in the  17 century.

Objectives of the Mission

Kepler mission had stipulated scientific objectives, and the objective revolves around the primary vision of the project, Kepler mission was to discover the structure and diversity of the planetary system. The mission bases its study on estimation and the surveyed was achieved by exploring massive samples of stars in the galaxy. The reason for surveying the galaxy was to:

  • Determine the spreading of sizes and shapes of the trajectories of these planets.
  • Discover the abidance and of terrestrial and bigger planets, existing nears the habitable zone, which is the planet earth of a wide continuum of stars within the galaxy.
  • Establish the number of planets existing within a multiple star systems.
  • Determine the variation of orbit sizes and distance, planets reflectiveness, their approximate sizes, masses per unit and density of short-period larger heavenly bodies.
  • Pinpoint and record an additional discovery of each member of a planetary system using sophisticated techniques.
  • Establish the components and properties of those stars that dock different planetary system. 

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Approach Taken to Execute the Mission

The transit approach was used in detecting extrasolar planets. The approach entails observing a planet traversing in front of a host star by an observer. The approach concentrates on the brightness produced by the planet on the parent star. The planet triggers significance brightness variation of approximately 1/10, 0000 that can last for about 16 hours thereby allowing observers enough time during the transit process. The brightness change is periodic because of the constant revolution of the planets. Importantly, the transit emanating from the same planets should produce the same degree of brightness and last within the same period. When the degree of brightness and the amount of time take by each transit are equal, it tends to provide recurring signals and vigorous detection approach. 

Once the signals are detected, the duration of the time taken for transit to occur and the time a planet will take to rotate around the planet is recorded. Additionally, the planet's mass is recorded basing on Kepler's third principal of planetary motion. Observing the depth of the transit and the rate at which the brightness of the star drops is useful in the determination of the planet's size. Basing on the properties, the orbital size, and temperature variation of the host star, a scientist can determine both the temperature and characteristics of the planet. The information about the characteristic and temperature of the planets can be used to denote whether the planet is habitable or not. The data obtained are compared with that of planet's earth and only planets with mild and temperatures are deemed habitable. 

How Spacecraft is Constructed

The spacecraft consist of three main parts, the camera, primary mirror and the photometer. The instrument weighs approximately 1, 400 kilograms fitted with a 1.4-meter primary mirror, which is synchronized with an o.95 meter aperture. The camera has a very high pixel of about 2200 *1024 generating huge resolutions of about 95 megapixels. Inside the spacecraft, there is a radiator connected with heat pipes used to cool the beam of arrays coming from the camera. The launching of the spacecraft, it was recorded as the only telescope with the largest mirror located outside space. Additionally, the spacecraft is constructed with a wide field of view of about 115 deg2,   which is equivalent to 12-degree diameter wide or equivalent to the size of a fist positioned at arm's length. Of 115 deg2, 105 deg2 is set specifically for science purposes since it accounts for less than 11 % vignetting. The primary mirror is built from glassmaker Corning using the ULE glasses. To obtain high sensitivity that can capture small planets orbiting the stars, the mirror is designed to weigh only 14% of the normal mirror with the same size. Sufficient sensitivity is further boosted by coating the mirror with reflecting components like an iron coat. The photometer is fitted with quality lenses to provide a fine focus that can generate and superb photometry instead of producing sharp images. The instrument is primarily set to measure combined differential, photometric precision of about 20 ppm for a solar-like stars for 5 to 6 hours. 

How Does the Spacecraft Execute its Mission?

The instrument is working well about the series of the objective set. The instrument objective was a CDPP of 20 ppm on a continuum of 10 to 12 stars in an integration period ranging between 5 to 6 hours. The instrument allows 10 ppm that covers instances of Steller variations and this is equivalent to the value of the sun. Observers ought to record accurately while considering the stars position on the focal plane because the outcome tends to have a wide range of outcome. The recording post a median of 29 ppm of which 19  ppm the variability obtain form stars, and the remaining 10-ppm is provided to assume the internet noises generated by the instrument. The planets have a size close to planet earth tend to generate noise of 80 ppm basing on the observations on the transit. Due to the variation of noise level, observers tend to observe many transits improve the accuracy of the detection. 

Who runs the mission?

The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Colorado operate the missions under a subcontract from Ball-Aerospace and Technologies. The two bodies control the entire operation of the spacecraft at the University of Colorado from a mission research center.

The mission was progressing on well since its launching in 2009. The primary mission of discovering exoplanets was successful until it was brought to a halt by the reaction wheels issues. In 2012, Kepler recorded a mechanical problem on four reaction wheels, which failed to operate. Subsequently, in 2013, the same problem occurred hampering the functioning of two reaction wheels. The mission progress came to a standstill because Kepler could not record any accurate and significant data. Constant repairs were attempted but to no avail because the repaired wheel rotated counter clockwise with much friction.

The failure of the reaction wheels affected negatively to the entire Kepler's mission. In August 2013, Kepler announced that the team would cease from carrying out its primary mission of discovering exoplanets because the attempt to resolve the issue brought by the reaction wheel was not successful. The workaround involved a team of engineers who filed a report on the capabilities of the instrument and the report indicated that only two of four wheels of the spacecraft were in good condition. 

The failure of the spacecraft mission prompted the introduction of a new mission plan referred to as K2. K2 also known as the "Second light" was considered and launched in November 2013, and its mission was to deploy the remaining useful capabilities that remained in Kepler's mission. K2 was an improved version of Kepler as it could generate a precision of approximately 300ppm unlike the 20 ppm produced in Kepler. The data collected in K2 are sufficient to carry out a study on the formation of stars, detecting more exoplanets, supernova theory, and the entire solar system materials.  

The K2 mission appeared to be fruitful, and this saw NASA announcing the discovery of its first confirmed exoplanet, which had close characteristics with the planet earth. The newly confirmed super-earth was named HIP 116454b. Unlike originally planned by the Kepler's team, the some of the mission's resulted would delay for more than one year as expected because of the problem that occurred. 

Both the Kepler and K2 missions have created a platform for other future and follow-ups missions to be launched. The teams have listed possible candidates mission which under Kepler Objects of Interest. The information can benefit other astronomers in collecting radial velocity data using a sophisticated spectrograph. 

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