NASA's Kepler Telescope almost out of fuel, forced to nap

10 July, 2018, 14:43 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Kepler K2

It found thousands of new planets, some Earth-like, during its time in space, but as fuel is low for the spacecraft, it will soon be time to put the telescope to rest.

NASA's iconic Kepler space telescope - which has discovered 70 percent of the 3,750 exoplanets known to date - is running so low on fuel that the agency has put it into a hibernation-like state, agency officials announced today (July 6). From this point, the priority for the space agency is to download the data from its 18th observing campaign.

NASA said that the Kepler team was notified that the fuel tank of Kepler is running very low.

NASA's storied Kepler Space Telescope - the craft which has discovered thousands of exoplanets since its launch in 2009 - is entering the retirement phase of its lifespan. Transmitting data can occur during Deep Space Network time, which is in early August. "In our case, there is no next station, so we want to stop collecting data while we're still comfortable that we can aim the spacecraft to bring it back to Earth", the space agency added. The team has paused the spacecraft's planet-hunting science observations and placed it in a hibernation-like state to prepare to download the science data collected during its most recent observation campaign. The space- based telescope is now stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.

Kepler has been on its 18th observation since May 12 of this year (2018), studying a cluster of stars near the constellation of Cancer that the spacecraft had previously observed in 2015.

In terms of Kepler, the space telescope lifted off from Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 17, atop its United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket (7925-10L) on March 7, 2009.

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On August 2, NASA will wake-up Kepler and maneuver the spacecraft to begin transmission of the latest data.

During its primary mission, Kepler stared at about 150,000 stars simultaneously, hunting for promising transits.

Reborn as "K2", this extended mission requires the spacecraft to shift its field of view to new portions of the sky roughly every three months in what scientists refer to as a "campaign". If that is successful, they plan to start a 19th observation campaign with the remaining fuel.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate.

Researchers expect to find more exoplanet discoveries from Kepler's data, as it can take years to analyze information from the spacecraft's instruments.

Kepler has been searching for planets outside our solar system for almost a decade.

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