The Kepler Mission is a search for terrestrial planets specifically designed to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of solar-like stars. In addition, the mission has a broad detection capability for a wide range of planetary sizes, planetary orbits and spectral types of stars. The mission is in the midst of the developmental phase with good progress leading to the preliminary design review later this year. Long lead procurements are well under way. An overview in all areas is presented including both the flight system (photometer and spacecraft) and the ground system. Launch is on target for 2007 on a Delta II.
The Kepler mission will launch in 2007 and determine the distribution of earth-size planets (0.5 to 10 earth masses) in the habitable zones (HZs) of solar-like stars. The mission will monitor > 100,000 dwarf stars simultaneously for at least 4 years. Precision differential photometry will be used to detect the periodic signals of transiting planets. Kepler will also support asteroseismology by measuring the pressure-mode (p-mode) oscillations of selected stars. Key mission elements include a spacecraft bus and 0.95meter, wide-field, CCD-based photometer injected into an earth-trailing heliocentric orbit by a 3-stage Delta II launch vehicle as well as a distributed Ground Segment and Follow-up Observing Program. The project is currently preparing for Preliminary Design Review (October 2004) and is proceeding with detailed design and procurement of long-lead components. In order to meet the unprecedented photometric precision requirement and to ensure a statistically significant result, the Kepler mission involves technical challenges in the areas of photometric noise and systematic error reduction, stability, and false-positive rejection. Programmatic and logistical challenges include the collaborative design, modeling, integration, test, and operation of a geographically and functionally distributed project. A very rigorous systems engineering program has evolved to address these challenge. This paper provides an overview of the Kepler systems engineering program, including some examples of our processes and techniques in areas such as requirements synthesis, validation & verification, system robustness design, and end-to-end performance modeling.
The StarLight mission is designed to validate the technologies of formation flying and stellar interferometry in space. The mission consists of two spacecraft in an earth-trailing orbit that formation-fly over relative ranges of 40 to 600m to an accuracy of 10 cm. The relative range and bearing of the spacecraft is sensed by a novel RF sensor, the Autonomous Formation Flyer sensor, which provides 2cm and 1mrad range and bearing knowledge between the spacecraft. The spacecraft each host instrument payloads for a Michelson interferometer that exploit the moving spacecraft to generate variable observing baselines between 30 and 125m. The StarLight preliminary design has shown that a formation-flying interferometer involves significant coupling between the major system elements - spacecraft, formation-flying control, formation-flying sensor, and the interferometer instrument. Mission requirements drive innovative approaches for long-range heterodyne metrology, optical design, glint suppression, formation estimation and control, spacecraft design, and mission operation. Experimental results are described for new technology development areas.
The StarLight flight project was designed to demonstrate the key technologies of spaceborne long-baseline stellar interferometry and precision formation flying for potential use on the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) and other future astrophysics missions. Interferometer performance validation could be achieved over a 6-12 month period by obtaining several hundred fringe visibility amplitude measurements for stars in the band 600-1000 nm for a variety of stellar visibilities, magnitudes, and baselines. Interferometery could be performed both in a 1 meter fixed-baseline combiner-only mode and in a two-spacecraft formation mode. In formation mode, the combiner spacecraft would remain at the focus of a virtual parabola, while the collector spacecraft assumed various positions along the parabola such that the two arms of the interferometer remained equal over a variety of separations and bearing angles. Challenges to be encountered in flight include high-bandwidth inter-spacecraft stellar and metrology pointing control, alingment and shear correction, delay and delay-rate estimation, visibility calibration, and robust fringe trackign in the presence of local and inter-spacecraft dynamics. This paper is based on the StarLight project design-capture of March 2002 and will describe the StarLight Interferometer System architecture and selected operational concepts.
The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), scheduled for an 11 day Space Shuttle flight in 1999, will use an Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument to produce a near-global digital elevation map of the earth's land surface with 16 m absolute vertical height accuracy at 30 meter postings. SRTM will achieve the required interferometric baseline by extending a receive-only radar antenna on a 60 meter deployable mast from the shuttle payload bay. Continuous measurement of the interferometric baseline length, attitude, and position is required at the 2 mm, 9 arcsec, and 1 m levels, respectively, in order to obtain the desired height accuracy. The attitude and orbit determination avionics (AODA) subsystem will provide these functions for SRTM. The AODA flight sensor complement includes electro-optical metrology sensor, a star tracker, an inertial reference unit, GPS receivers, plus supporting electronics and computers. AODA ground processing computers will support SRTM system performance evaluation during the mission and baseline reconstruction after the mission. The final AODA data products will be combined with the radar data to reconstruct the height information necessary for topographic map generation. A description of the AODA system architecture, error budgets, and the major issues involved with measuring large space structures are presented.