Wednesday, 18 July, 2018

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

Kepler K2 "Alien Life Payload?" NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Downloads Exoplanet Science Data
Sandy Nunez | 11 July, 2018, 20:45

Transmitting data can occur during Deep Space Network time, which is in early August.

Initially, the Kepler team estimated that the K2 mission could conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel. The Space agency on Saturday announced that the Kepler team received an indication of the spacecraft fuel tank running low which prompted the agency to put the spacecraft in a "hibernation-like" state. On August 2nd, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data. If they successfully retrieve the data, the Kepler staff will start a 19th observation campaign with the last remaining fuel. Once Kepler finally cease to function it will partly replace TESS space telescope, created to search for planets around other stars.

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 that time, the Kepler will wake up and maneuver itself with the remaining fuel so that its antenna will point toward Earth. 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.

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Don't miss out on the latest news and information. Most notable, in 2013, a malfunctioned reaction wheel on the spacecraft prevented it from being stable required NASA to readjust the mission for the Kepler. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. The agency has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months. If this is successful, they plan to start a new campaign for the observation of exoplanets with the remaining fuel. Its successor is TESS the exoplanet hunter (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite). As the spaceship is in deep space region and is around 94M milers away from the orbit of earth, and there is no possibility that it will hit any life-bearing planet like icy moon, NASA is allowed to keep in the spaceship in working condition until it gives up.

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. Since then, Kepler began a second phase of its mission called K2.