NASA Kepler spacecraft very low on fuel, put into hibernation mode

Rodiano Bonacci
Luglio 8, 2018

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). The move has been taken in order to prepare the spacecraft to download the data collected in its latest observation campaign.

On August 2, the Kepler team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and manoeuvre the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data.

Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign since May 12 collecting data from the part of the sky towards the constellation of Cancer that it earlier studied in 2015. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel.

News Brief: NASA has hit the pause button on observations by its most prolific planet-hunting probe, the Kepler space telescope, so that it can download 51 days' worth science data without interruption.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically created to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

"The Kepler team is planning to collect as much science data as possible in its remaining time and beam it back to Earth before the loss of the fuel-powered thrusters means that we can't aim the spacecraft for data transfer".

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. An academic paper released on June 29 added 44 more validated planets to the mission's total using data from the 10th observation campaign of the K2 phase conducted in 2016.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. Kepler has detected 2,650 confirmed planets, including 24 planets that were added to the list just last week.

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