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  • Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The spacecraft, named after the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler, was launched on March 7, 2009. Designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way to discover dozens of Earth-size extrasolar planets in or near the habitable zone and estimate how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets, Kepler's sole instrument is a photometer that continually monitors the brightness of over 145,000 main sequence stars in a fixed field of view. This data is transmitted to Earth, then analyzed to detect periodic dimming caused by extrasolar planets that cross in front of their host star. Kepler is part of NASA's Discovery Program of relatively low-cost, focused primary science missions. The telescope's construction and initial operation were managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with Ball Aerospace responsible for developing the Kepler flight system. The Ames Research Center is responsible for the ground system development, mission operations since December 2009, and science data analysis. The initial planned lifetime was 3.5 years, but greater than expected noise in the data, from both the stars and the spacecraft, meant additional time was needed to fulfill all mission goals. Initially, in 2012, the mission was expected to last until 2016, but this would only be possible if all remaining reaction wheels used for pointing the spacecraft remained reliable. On May 11, 2013, a second of four reaction wheels failed, disabling the collection of science data and threatening the continuation of the mission. Wikipedia

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