BOULDER, Colo., 11 April 2012. NASA officials have extended the Kepler Mission through 2016—four years past the original end date of Nov. 2012. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., will continue its role as mission prime contractor for Kepler, through which engineers are searching for Earth-size planets around other stars using a Ball Aerospace-built photometer and spacecraft.
The additional observation time means Kepler engineers will be able to determine what fraction of stars host Earth-size planets in our galaxy, says a spokesperson. The extended mission will also allow Kepler to search for planets in longer period orbits, like Earth, in the habitable zones, the region in the planetary system where liquid water could exist.
Kepler has identified more than 2,300 candidate planets; more than 900 are smaller than twice the size of Earth. Of the 46 planet candidates found in the habitable zone, 10 of these candidates are near the size of Earth.
"The Kepler mission has proven to be a terrific return on the nation's investment and the extension will further our scientific understanding of other solar systems in our galaxy," says Cary Ludtke, vice president and general manager for the Ball Aerospace Civil and Operational Space business unit.
Ball Aerospace staff also managed system integration and test for the NASA Ames Research Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory-led Discovery class mission. Ball is currently managing on-orbit operation of the satellite for NASA Ames.
The Kepler mission is the 2012 recipient of three awards from the aerospace community: Space Foundation John L. "Jack" Swigert Award for Space Exploration; Aviation Week & Space Technology Laureate Award for Space; and National Space Club Nelson P. Jackson Aerospace Award.