Published: Tue, July 10, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA’s Kepler Telescope nearly out of fuel, forced to nap

NASA’s Kepler Telescope nearly out of fuel, forced to nap

Launched in 2009, NASA's famous "planet-hunting" telescope "Kepler" is being put into hibernation as it has nearly run out of fuel.

NASA has announced that its Kepler team has put the spacecraft into a state similar to hibernation.

Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel, the announcement added.

To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled 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. Between now and 2 August, the spacecraft will remain in a stable safety mode that requires no propellant. The planet-hunting spacecraft was placed into hibernation safe mode past Monday to prepare for the downloading of the science data collected during the observatory's latest observation campaign.

Kepler began its 18th observation run on 12 May, using its 100-megapixel camera to monitor starlight from a patch of sky that was previously studied in 2015, on the lookout for the tell-tale dips in brightness that might indicate a planet moving between a star and the spacecraft.

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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In 2013, Kepler's primary mission ended when a second reaction wheel broke, rendering it unable to hold its gaze steady at the original field of view.

When flight controllers send commands to wake up the planet hunter, Kepler will re-orient itself and downlink the stored data.

The spacecraft was given a new lease on life by using the pressure of sunlight to maintain its pointing, like a kayak steering into the current. If that is successful, they plan to start a 19th observation campaign with the remaining fuel. So far, it has provided data that scientists have used to confirm the existence of 2,650 exoplanets in a field of over 150,000 stars that it's examining.

NASA in April launched another planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess).

As it turns out, Kepler has discovered that our solar system is unique compared to others, which have included blazing-hot gas giants in perilous proximity to their host stars, binary star systems, and red dwarfs orbited by numerous rocky worlds.

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