NASA Series: Kepler Mission and the Starfield Plate

Space has always given humanity an endless map to explore the vast possibilities and fascination of the universe. The Kepler space mission that launched on March 7, 2009 was no exception to those possibilities. The Kepler space telescope’s main purpose was to try and answer one essential, monumental question: Are there more planets out there that are Earth-like? The unmanned satellite was tasked with trying to find planets within several stars.

NASA rendering of the NASA satellite
NASA rendering of the Kepler satellite

In 1999, Lenox Laser began making a custom starfield plate for the Kepler mission. The following year, that innovation led to the manufacturing of another starfield for NASA’s next project codenamed Starfield. The concept of the starfield plate was achieved by Dr. David Koch, the Deputy Principle Investigator on the Kepler mission. Koch started work on the Kepler mission as early as 1992. Lenox Laser laser drilled hundreds of microscopic holes into the plate accurately representing the location of celestial bodies for testing purposes. Dr. Koch summarized Lenox Laser’s work saying, “The star plate has a large number of holes of various sizes… and they are placed in many locations across the field-of- view to support the suite of tests… The plate is made of 50- micron thick stainless steel and opaque (transparency of less than one part in a million). The hole pattern was drilled with a laser beam by Lenox Laser, with some holes as small as 3 microns in diameter.”

Used to calibrate systems for the NASA Kepler Mission. Holes precision drilled by Lenox Laser.
Used to calibrate systems for the NASA Kepler Mission. Holes precision drilled by Lenox Laser.

The planets around other stars that were found are known as extrasolar planets or exoplanets. Before 2009 it was estimated by NASA that 326 exoplanets existed. An exoplanet’s orbit can be completed in a matter of days and sometimes even hours. Thanks to Kepler’s mission data, there are 4,103 confirmed exoplanets in 3,056 systems with an estimated more than 40 billion Earth sized exit planets inhabiting the Milky Way.

The Kepler telescope was outfitted with an unprecedented 95-megapixel camera to capture images. The Kepler satellite was put into retirement by NASA in October 2018 when it ran out of fuel. In its nine-and-a-half-year journey, over 4,000 exoplanets were confirmed.

The Kepler mission is just one of the many examples of Lenox Laser’s extraordinary contributions to space travel. For Lenox Laser, the term “reach for the stars” has become more than just a metaphor. May the imagination of all mankind continue to reach for those stars; may we never see the galaxy the same way again; and may we never stop dreaming.

Lenox Laser is proud to announce that over the next several weeks, we will be doing an article series on past famous NASA missions and their astonishing history.  Stay tuned!

For more information on Kepler, go to the links below.

NASA Series: Hubble Space Telescope
PDA Europe 10/24 -10/25