NASA'S Kepler Mission Awarded Mission Extension

KeplerMOFFETT FIELD, Calif. ­ NASA's Kepler mission has been approved for extension through fiscal year 2016 based on a recommendation from the agency¹s Senior Review of its operating missions. The extension provides four additional years to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone ­ the region in a planetary system where liquid water could exist on the surface of an orbiting planet ­ around sun-like stars in our galaxy. The 2012 Senior Review report is available at:

https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/2012-senior-review

"Kepler has revolutionized our understanding of exoplanets and the study of stellar seismology and variability," said Roger Hunter, Kepler project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "There is currently no other mission in development that can replace or surpass the precision of Kepler. This extended mission will afford Kepler a unique opportunity to rewrite our understanding of the galaxy and our place in it."  

Launched in March 2009, the Kepler spacecraft identifies planet candidates by repeatedly measuring the tiny change in brightness of more than 150,000 stars to detect when a planet transits the face of the star. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. At least three transits are required to verify a signal as a planet.  

"Kepler offers a new technical capability, opening a new measurement parameter space, and as often happens with such developments, that has led to unexpected results. There has been a continuous stream of new findings ­ the assimilation and exploitation of new opportunities is just beginning," as stated by the committee in the 2012 Senior Review report.  

The mission's discoveries beyond our solar system include the first unquestionably rocky planet; the first multiple-transiting planet system; the first small planet in the habitable zone; the first Earth-size planets; the smallest Mars-size planets; and the confirmation of a new class of double-star planetary systems.  

Ames Research Center manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA¹s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., managed the Kepler mission's development.  

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.  

The SETI Institute is a proud member of NASA's Kepler Mission. SETI Institute team members include:

Dr. Doug Caldwell is a Co-Investigator on the Kepler Mission, the Instrument Scientist for the Kepler Mission. He works at the Kepler Science Office on the whole instrument/detector system.

Dr. Jon Jenkins is a Co-Investigator on the Kepler Mission and leads a software team of seven people for the Kepler Mission. Jenkin's team has developed the software to conduct the data analysis for the Kepler Mission. This is a fundamental function for mission success. Jenkin's team members are Hema Chandrasekaran, Sr. Scientific Programmer, Bruce Clarke, Scientific Programmer, Paul Gazis, Science Data Analyst, Jie Li, Scientific Programmer, Elisa Quintana, Scientific Programmer, Peter Tenenbaum, Scientific Programmer, and Joe Twicken, Sr. Scientific Programmer.

Dr. Jill Tarter, the Bernard M. Oliver Chair of the Center for SETI Research, is a member of the Kepler Mission Science Working Group. Searching for Earth-like planets is a step toward her ultimate goal of discovering extraterrestrial intelligent life.

Edna DeVore, Director of Education and Outreach, is a Co-Investigator on the Kepler Mission, and leads SETI Institute's work in Kepler Education and Outreach. Her education team works in partnership with the Lawrence Hall of Science at University of the Pacific and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific to conduct projects and activities that support Kepler EPO. Edna's team members are Pamela Harman and Cynthia Ramseyer.

Laurance Doyle is a Principal Investigator at the SETI Institute. His responsibility is the detection of Earthlike (or larger) planets in orbit around the close double stars in the Kepler field of view-- stars that actually orbit across each other along our line of sight, which are known as "eclipsing binary systems." Planetary transits across these types of stars are more complex as the stars orbit each other behind the planet (that is, they "silhouette" the planet) so that the transit is not a simple dip in brightness but rather a complex series of dips. The determination of such "quasi-periodic" transit signals is also computationally extensive, so it is also planned to include the public in the discoveries by setting up a "planets@home" program where possible planetary candidate brightness variations can be tested be participants on their home computers.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:   http://www.nasa.gov/kepler