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Over the past year, we’ve told the sad story of NASA’s Kepler space observatory, and how the failure of two vital components have resulted in the sad and premature retirement of humanity’s best tool for spotting Earth-like planets elsewhere in the universe. Just when all hope seemed lost, though, NASA has approved an ingenious plan to bring Kepler back online — a novel, never-before-seen technique that uses the Sun’s constant bombarding of photons upon Kepler’s solar panels to keep the telescope pointed in the right direction.
This method isn’t without it flaws, though. As Kepler orbits around the Sun, the angle of the sunlight changes, until eventually it hits the side of the spacecraft that isn’t covered in solar panels. To compensate, Bell Aerospace proposes that Kepler’s orbit around the Sun be broken into individual “campaigns,” where it focuses on a single patch of sky for 83 days — and then, after it travels far enough around the Sun, it turns around and looks at another patch of sky. One orbit would be broken into four campaigns of 83 days, with each campaign analyzing a different patch of sky. After a few orbits of the Sun, the Kepler K2 plan would produce enough scientific data to locate some more exoplanets.