CHELMSFORD, England -- On the 6th March 2009, e2v's high-performance CCD imaging sensors were launched into space onboard the Kepler spacecraft as it successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral, FL, onboard a Delta II rocket on its 3.5 year (or more) mission.
Kepler has been designed by NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp. to simultaneously monitor from space more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy. It will observe sun-like stars, seeking to discover Earth-like planets, whose orbits about their star are at distances where liquid water can exist, and therefore perhaps life could form.
Ball Aerospace designed, built, and tested Kepler's photometer, a specially designed 0.95 m aperture, wide field-of-view Schmidt telescope, with a 1.4 m primary mirror. With more than 95 megapixels, Kepler's focal plane array of 42 e2v backside-illuminated CCD90s forms the largest array of CCDs ever launched into space by NASA. The CCDs are not used to take sharp pictures. The images are intentionally defocused to about 10 arc seconds to improve the photometric precision.
The 42 e2v CCD90s populating the focal plane array have the following characteristics:
- 2200 by 1044 active pixels; 27 µm size; 28 by 55 mm image area
- Back-thinned for high spectral response across the visible and near-IR range
- Low noise and large signal handling characteristics, with stable performance
- Precision flatness and device location within a custom package
- 3 MHz read-out rate
Margaret A. Frerking, Kepler's Deputy Project Manager from NASA JPL, said "Kepler, with its large focal plane array, will let us observe over 100,000 stars simultaneously and discover as many as 100 earth-like planets during the course of the mission."
"e2v's imaging sensors are the heart of the Kepler mission," said John Troeltzsch, Ball Aerospace program manager. "The CCDs will allow Kepler to detect Earth-like planets orbiting in the habitable zone around other stars and possibly answer the million dollar queston: Are we alone?"
Brian McAllister, General Manager of Space & Scientific Imaging at e2v said, "e2v is proud to be able to help NASA accelerate discovery by supplying imaging sensors for this telescope. This will be the largest camera launched in space and promises some exciting discoveries".
The NASA Ames Research Center is home to Kepler's science principal investigator, and is also responsible for the ground system development, mission operations, and science data analysis. Kepler mission development is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Operation of the spacecraft after launch will be performed by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, with Ball providing system engineering and mission planning.