by Nick Gautier

Kepler is now 3 years old, launched on 6 March 2009. It is operating normally in its 12th quarter of data collection. Quarter 12 will end and Quarter 13 begin at the end of March. Kepler is weathering the recent spate of solar storms with some modest lost of data collection time but no permanent effects on its hardware.

A new list of 2321 planet candidates was published in February ( Eleven new planetary systems containing 26 planets were announced as confirmed, bringing the total of Kepler planets to 61. Two of the new planets have circumbinary orbits establishing that double-star worlds are not uncommon.

Kepler won the 2012 Aviation Week Laureate Award in the Space category on March 7 and will receive the 2012 John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration from the Space Foundation at the opening ceremony of the 28th National Space Symposium on April 16.

The Kepler project has been approved for operation through 2016 by the NASA Senior Review of Operating Missions held on 29 February. Funding was provided for 2013 and 2014 with funding for 2015 and 2016 subject to additional review. This extension will allow Kepler to continue its exoplanet survey and Guest Observer program for at least 2 years past the previously scheduled end of prime mission observations in November of 2012.

Cycle 4 proposals to the Kepler Guest Observer Program were due January 20. The proposal review will occur in April.