NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has shut down due to an apparent problem with its positioning system, suspending indefinitely its science mission, officials said Wednesday.
So far, attempts to coax the telescope back into operation have been fruitless. Two of the observatory's four spinning reaction wheels, needed to properly point Kepler at its targets, are now no longer working.
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As designed, the telescope needs at least three of its four wheels spinning to steady itself for the delicate task of finding planets circling distant stars.
"We need three wheels in service to give us the pointing precision that is necessary to find planets," Kepler lead scientist William Borucki, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.
Kepler, which was launched in 2009, lost its first positioning wheel last year.
"People are definitely saddened by the loss of another reaction wheel. It certainly is not good news for the mission, which has been performing so well and had so much promise for doing even better," deputy project manager Charles Sobeck, with the Ames Research Center, told Discovery News.