Saturday, 22 September, 2018

NASA’s Kepler Telescope has alarmingly low fuel, goes to sleep

Kepler K2 "Alien Life Payload?" NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Downloads Exoplanet Science Data
Sandra Phillips | 11 July, 2018, 20:40

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. The highest priority for Kepler's remaining fuel is to return the data back to Earth. Kepler's latest mission Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of the sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015.

For now, Kepler's team is concentrating on the downloading of data gathered during the spacecraft's most recent observation.

Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. The team will start its 19th observation campaign on August 6 if the download is successful.

Almost out of fuel after nine years of trail-blazing searches for exoplanets, NASA's' Kepler satellite has been put in a state of electronic hibernation in preparation for downloading stored data from its latest observation campaign.

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Launched in 2009, Kepler was the first planet-hunting mission of its kind. It is necessary to prepare for the download of the scientific data collected during the last observation campaign in the framework of the Deep Space Network. 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.

NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages the Kepler mission and follow-up K2 mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Interestingly, Kepler used the pressure of the sun to maintain its gaze, 'like a kayak steering into the current", says Sobeck, reports the UK's Daily Mail. The maneuvers required to point the antenna toward spacecraft are the most fuel-intensive tasks that the spacecraft performs and at any point, Kepler's fuel tank may run dry.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate. Since then, Kepler began a second phase of its mission called K2.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. While it is still in limited operation, NASA has already launched a successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which sent back an incredible image of thousands of stars in March 2018. 24 new planet discoveries were recently made using information gleaned from Kepler's 10th observation campaign, adding to the mission's growing total of 2,650 confirmed worlds orbiting distant stars.

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