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After a hiatus of a year, Kepler space telescope, launched to search planets orbiting other starts, is back to work. NASA approved two years of funding for a new Kepler mission, K2, or Kepler Two-Wheel.
As a part of this project, the spacecraft would observe different parts of the sky including stars, star clusters, galaxies and supernovae after every two to three months. Being launched in 2009, Kepler found 3,845 candidate planets orbiting the constellations Cygnus and Lyra.
With the help of Kepler space telescope, 966 of these objects have been confirmed as exoplanets. Four reaction wheels ensured the spacecraft remained at place. In 2012, it witnessed a problem as one of its wheels got jammed.
Kepler was capable of working with three reaction wheels. Therefore, it continued working normally, but last year, a second wheel also got jammed. Problem in the working of two wheels made it unable to continue with its aim of focussing at target stars.
Many thought it could be the end of the mission. But such was not the case as engineers came up with an alternate system that uses soft pressure of photons from sunlight to balance the two reaction wheels and the spacecraft.
Experts said they came up with the idea from the use of solar wind. Kepler is not using the solar wind and relies only on power of sunlight. The currently approved project takes the total cost of the mission to $600 million. There are also chances that the mission gets approval for one more year. On May 30, the spacecraft will start working again. This time, it will focus on stars in the ecliptic.