NASA’s Kepler spacecraft should have been rendered useless by a 2013 hardware failure, but instead its secondary mission – called K2 – has just yielded its first major discovery in the form of a particularly exciting exoplanet. The limping spacecraft, which was designed to survey the galaxy for new planets, has been kept on the road because of some tenacious ingenuity on the part of NASA scientists.

Kepler launched in 2009 with a very specific goal: Find out just how common planets are in our cosmic neighborhood, and how many of those planets share characteristics with Earth – such as small size and proximity to a bright star – that might indicate they’re worth a closer look. For four years, Kepler stared at one spot in the sky, looking at 150,000 stars at once to see if any planets passed in front of them.

But in May 2013, one of Kepler’s four reaction wheels (which kept it centered so precisely on its target) failed. Without it, the spacecraft was unstable, and any outside force could knock it totally out of position. It seemed like the mission was over.

Not quite. “We developed this concept of how to operate the telescope in a different mode,” said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Instead of staring at lots of stars for a long time, Howell said, K2 focuses on potentially interesting objects in the hope of finding a planetary jackpot.

That’s why he’s so excited about K2’s first finding.

The planet in question is a Super Earth (a planet about 2.5 times larger than Earth) 180 light years away. Because it sits in between Earth (a rocky planet) and Neptune (a gaseous one) in size, Howell says that many scientists will clamber to study it.

Kepler’s work on this new planet is now done.