Kepler Mission – Pre Prima Lux update – With Jon Jenkins

Time zones always provide us with curious situations…I’ve e-mailed Jon Jenkins yesterday, just before going off to my own safe mode over the pillows and under the sheets, so I have just read the answer after seing our own star shining above the hills…

Jon’s first words left me thinking that we would have to wait a little longer until Kepler open its own eyes and stare to myriads of stars, but read a little further ahead…I did it and a smile made an appearance in my face…

We get some some precious details about how things will work after First Light and…if all goes well…it looks like today it will be a day to remember…

 

jenkins_jon_3_enh11Nothing new to report here. We’re making sure that everything is in place (people, software, hardware, etc.) for performing the data analysis once we get post-DCE (dust cover eject) data. As the Mission Manager’s latest update indicates, DCE will happen no earlier than Tuesday evening April 7. This is the same language used for the launch date/time, and while everyone hopes that DCE happens tomorrow night, it’s just like launch — some things are out of our hands. A friend of mine contacted me early during launch week to say she was sorry that launch had been delayed a day. I was actually pleased that launch was delayed one day so that NASA could do everything necessary to ensure that whatever caused the loss of OCO during launch would not happen to Kepler.

 

(Just like launch) assuming everything goes well from here on out, tomorrow evening (April 7) is going to be a big Kepler Mission milestone! So we’re getting pretty excited about seeing the stars for the first time, but will have to wait at least a few days since there are data transfer and processing delays. The fun will only be getting started, however, as next we’ll be commissioning the Fine Guidance Sensors (FGS) – these are small CCDs located in the “corners” of our focal plane (the science CCDs are in a 5×5 pattern with the corners missing), and then we’ll check focus. After that, we’ll be tuning our sky-to-CCD mapping transform and characterizing the shape of the Point Spread Function (PSF) across the focal plane. The PSF is the shape of the image of a point source. Both the sky-to-CCD mapping and the PSF determine in large part which pixels we need to bring down for each target star. So this is pretty important to get right as we can only bring down 170,000 targets at an average of 32 pixels per target.

 

Once these tasks are done we’ll be getting our final target lists and target definitions in place to start science operations. We still have a ways to go, but we’ve made exceptional progress with commissioning the spacecraft and the instrument so far. You don’t know how a ship is going to perform until you get her out on the open water and see what she does. You always have to put her through the paces for safety maneuvers and you always have to trim the sails to get the best performance.

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