Sailing saves spacecraftMay 19, 2014
NASA's Kepler planet hunting spacecraft has made news in the past few years with its discoveries of exoplanets orbiting around distant stars. Kepler also made some bad news when NASA announced that two of its four gyroscope-like reaction wheels (used for stabilizing and pointing the spacecraft) had jammed and could no longer be used. This raised the possibility that the fertile Kepler mission, which had found 3,485 "candidate" objects that might be exoplanets, could be over.
Sailing saved the day, however! Technicians at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., have devised a way for Kepler to use one of its solar panels as a stabilizing sail. The pressure of photons flowing out from the sun is enough to steady the spacecraft so it can still point its telescope to make discoveries.
Sailing is not only fun, but scientific, too!