Since Sunday morning, the spacecraft, Kepler, has remained safely “parked” in a stable-pointed configuration called Point Rest State. In this state, fuel usage remains low and the communication link to Earth is stable. As of Tuesday, mission operations engineers downlinked all the necessary data from Kepler to plan the steps toward recovery.
The recovery of the ship began with a thorough assessment of the data, which took a couple days. From the data, the team learned all they could about the state of the spacecraft.
In order to uncover what had gone wrong with the spacecraft, scientists had to perform tests to pinpoint the cause of the problem. Testing began on the Kepler spacecraft simulator in the flight planning center at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado.
With the ground-based simulation a success, scientists were ready to conduct the tests on Kepler, which is currently drifting 75 million miles from Earth. The engineers sent the instructions, along with commands for the spacecraft to protect itself and enter a safe operating mode if there was a problem, and waited for the spacecraft to report back.
The spacecraft returned a response that is the equivalent of ‘so far, so good.’ It did not experience any faults from switching on the components, and all the data suggested the components were working normally. The spacecraft is another step closer to returning to scientific observations for the K2 Mission.
The recovery started slowly and carefully, as scientists initially tried to understand the situation and recover the systems least likely to have been the cause. Over the last day and a half, they’ve begun to turn the corner by powering on more suspect components. With just one more to go, it is expected that Kepler will soon be on the home stretch and picking up speed towards returning to normal operations.