March 23, 2015 – Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. has been recognized for its role as the prime contractor for NASA’s Kepler mission. The Kepler mission team, responsible for history’s first detection of Earth-sized planets orbiting other suns in their temperate “habitable zone,” will receive the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s highest group honor at a ceremony in Washington on March 25. Kepler will receive the 2015 Trophy for Current Achievement, which honors outstanding endeavors in the fields of aerospace science and technology.
Established in 1985, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum presents its annual trophy to recognize both past and present achievements involving the management or execution of a scientific or technological project, a distinguished career of service in air and space technology, or a significant contribution in chronicling the history of air and space technology.
“Ball Aerospace is very proud to receive one of the Smithsonian Institution’s most distinguished honors,” said Ball Aerospace President, Robert D. Strain. “The Kepler mission launched a new era in astronomy and we continue to benefit by the extraordinary data being discovered in the pioneering search for exoplanets.”
Since its launch in March 2009, the Kepler mission has detected more than 4,000 candidate planets in orbit around other stars, or exoplanets for short. More than 1,000 of those exoplanet candidates have since been confirmed. These discoveries have revolutionized humanity’s view of Earth’s place in the universe by unveiling a whole new side of our Milky Way galaxy — one that is teeming with planets.
As a result of Kepler’s discoveries, scientists are confident that most stars have planets and that Earth’s galaxy may host tens of billions of Earth-sized planets that reside in a distant star’s “habitable zone,” the region around a star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. The Kepler mission is also establishing a foundation for future studies of exoplanet atmospheres that could eventually answer the question of whether or not we are alone in the universe.
The Kepler space telescope infers the existence of an exoplanet, by measuring the amount of starlight blocked when it passes or transits in front of its parent star. From these data, a planet’s size in radius, orbital period in Earth years and the amount of heat energy received from the host star can be determined.
During its prime mission, Kepler simultaneously and continuously measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars for four years, looking for the telltale dimming that would indicate the presence of an orbiting planet.
Kepler finished its primary mission in 2012 and began an extended mission. In 2013, the mission appeared to be over when two of four reaction wheels failed and the spacecraft lost its stability. The team, however, could not accept missing out on additional science discoveries from Kepler, and proposed the K2 mission to NASA, after Ball Aerospace developed an innovative way of recovering pointing stability by using solar pressure to control the spacecraft. K2 became operational in June 2014.
This new mission provides scientists with an opportunity to search for even more exoplanets, as well as new opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae. The spacecraft continues to collect data in its new mission.
Ball Aerospace was the prime contractor for NASA’s Kepler Mission, designed to search for rocky, Earth-sized planets around other stars. Ball designed and built the Kepler spacecraft, which includes the sensitive photometer used to find planets and operates Kepler for NASA.
NASA Ames Research Center is responsible for Kepler’s mission concept, ground system development, science data analysis and K2 mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.