BOULDER, Colo., March 6, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. planet hunting Kepler Mission completed five years of operations today since its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on March 6, 2009.
Kepler is the first NASA mission to find Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. In February, scientists announced that Kepler had discovered 715 new planets orbiting 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system. Already Kepler discoveries include more than 3,600 planet candidates, 961 which have been verified as bona-fide worlds. The Kepler team continues to analyze four years of collected data anticipating still more discoveries contained within the data. Ball Aerospace is currently teamed with the NASA Ames Research Center on a new mission concept, K2, that would continue Kepler's search for other worlds, and introduce new opportunities to observe star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae. K2 would search for new planets around bright stars and habitable worlds around M class stars, stars in the ecliptic roughly half the mass of our sun, to help pave the way for future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope, for which Ball is the principal optical subcontractor. On March 7, the Kepler team will receive the preeminent Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy from the National Space Club at the annual Goddard dinner. The award acknowledges the Kepler team for significant contribution to U.S. leadership in the field of rocketry and astronautics. Kepler is a joint mission between Ball Aerospace, NASA Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ball Aerospace is the Kepler mission prime contractor, which includes responsibility for the photometer, spacecraft, system integration and testing, and operation of the spacecraft on orbit.