NASA awards contract for Kepler mission development

Ball Aerospace has won a $28.4 million contract from NASA to develop the optics and detectors for a camera intended for the Kepler planet-finding spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2007.

Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation has won a $28.4 million contract from NASA to develop the optics and detectors for a camera intended for the Kepler planet-finding spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2007.

Eastman Kodak, under a contract valued at $4.5 million, will provide the entire optical subsystem for the spacecraft. The two-piece system will reportedly enable an extremely wide field of view, allowing Kepler to continuously gaze at more than 100,000 stars at the same time.

Other major subcontractors are Semiconductor Technology Associates in San Juan Capistrano, California, and EV2 of Elmsford, New York, who are providing detectors for Kepler.

The Kepler Mission is said to differ from previous planet-finding missions in that Kepler will look for the ‘transit’ signature that occurs each time a planet crosses the line-of-sight between a planet’s parent star, the one it orbits, and the observer.

During the orbital ‘transit,’ the planet blocks some of the light from its parent star resulting in periodic dimming. This periodic signature is used to detect the planet and to determine its size and orbit. Kepler will be able to determine if any Earth-sized planets make a transit across any of the stars.