DECEMBER 8--The Kepler mission, part of the NASA "discovery program," will depend for success on CCDs (charge-coupled devices) from UK designer and manufacturer e2v Technologies (Chelmsford, UK; e2vtechnologies.com/index.htm). The devices will be incorporated into the mission's space telescope, managed by a team from the Ames Research Center in California. They will be used to capture scientific data and detect Earth-like planets outside the solar system. The light-sensitive CCDs will gauge how bright the surrounding stars are--hundreds of thousands at a time--and the planet and orbit sizes will thereafter be calculated.
e2v supplied 30 CCD90s (2200 x 1060 format, 27-μm pixel) to Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., the company behind the development of the hardware for the four-year mission. Due to the superior technical performance of this initial supply of silicon chips and e2v's capability to deliver on schedule, Ball subsequently contracted e2v to supply a follow-on set of 30 more chips to complete the instrument's requirement. Given that the supply of these devices was seen as a critical risk item for the space mission, e2v's contract extension and subsequent program execution is testament to the company's ability to manufacture such large sets of high-performance imaging devices for space missions to guaranteed specifications and time scales.
Kepler is a world-first mission. Normally, the search for extra-solar planets brings findings of immense gaseous planets comparable with Jupiter. This mission is looking for much smaller planets, more like Earth, which may also be home to life forms similar to our own.
Previous sets of e2v Technologies imaging devices have been delivered to the world's largest space telescope, Hubble, the smallest optical space telescope, MOST, and Megacam, the wide-field camera mounted on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. Not only limited to the visible wavelength, e2v's space telescope skills also extend to the supply of CCDs for x-ray telescopes, such as XMM-Newton, and Gamma ray instruments, such as Integral.