Preparations continue for the first K2 campaign in the ecliptic plane, the orbital path of planets in our solar system. Scheduled to begin in early March, Campaign 0 primarily will be an engineering dress rehearsal for the K2 mission. This initial campaign will ensure that the K2 mission will be ready to proceed if it is approved, following the 2014 Astrophysics Senior Review of Operating Missions.
During the final test prior to this campaign engineers were very encouraged to see that the spacecraft operated throughout the test using the fine guidance sensors mounted on the focal plane. Having now brought the data back from the spacecraft, they have found that during the test, one of the science detector modules failed.
The Kepler focal plane is made up of a mosaic of 21 science detector modules. Four years ago, less than a year into the mission, one of the modules (Module 3) failed. An extensive review was unable to determine a specific cause, but was able to isolate the problem to a part failure in the circuitry powering that module. The new failure, Module 7, appears to be another occurrence of the same, or very similar, problem. We have only begun our assessment of the problem, but it is likely to be another isolated occurrence of a part failure, with no overall implications to a potential K2 mission. The remaining 19 modules still allow for a very large view of the sky, and the target resources that would have fallen on Module 7 have been reassigned to the remaining modules. At this time, it does not appear that this will have any impact on the Campaign 0 planning.
In the mean time, a paper has been submitted to the astronomy journalPublications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (PASP) describing details of the proposed K2 operations and the results of the testing that have been accomplished to characterize the mission performance. The paper describes the potential science that the new mission could deliver, and is intended to inform the scientific community of the potential opportunities so, if approved, the mission would be ready to effectively conduct meaningful studies.