Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 October 2009
Kepler is a Discovery-class mission designed to determine the frequency of Earth-size and smaller planets in and near the habitable zone (HZ) of spectral type F through M dwarf stars. The instrument consists of a 0.95 m aperture photometer to do high-precision photometry of 100,000 solar-like stars to search for patterns of transits. The depth and repetition time of transits provide the size of the planet relative to the star and its orbital period. Multi-band ground-based observation of these stars is currently underway to estimate the stellar parameters and to choose appropriate targets. With these parameters, the true planet radius and orbit scale—hence the relation to the HZ—can be determined. These spectra are also used to discover the relationships between the characteristics of planets and the stars they orbit. In particular, the association of planet size and occurrence frequency with stellar mass and metallicity will be investigated. At the end of the four-year mission, several hundred terrestrial planets should be discovered with periods between 1–400 days, if such planets are common. A null result would imply that terrestrial planets are rare. Based on the results of the recent Doppler-velocity discoveries, over a thousand giant planets will also be found. Information on the albedos and densities of those giants showing transits will be obtained. The mission is now in Phase C/D development and is scheduled for launch in 2008 into a 372-day heliocentric orbit.