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

The End Is Nigh for NASA's Planet Hunting Kepler Space Telescope

The End Is Nigh for NASA's Planet Hunting Kepler Space Telescope

NASA revealed on Saturday, July 7, that the Kepler Space Telescope is nearly out of fuel and that the space agency chose to put the spacecraft in hibernation-like state.

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

Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015. Kepler is set to wake up in August for the Deep Space Network time. "On Aug. 2, 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".

NASA made the move in an attempt to ensure that Kepler has enough fuel left to beam its latest data haul to its handlers early next month.

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 space telescope, which is now 94 million miles away from Earth, has survived many potential knock-outs during its nine years in flight, from mechanical failures to being blasted by cosmic rays. Engineers figured out a way to stabilize Kepler using sunlight pressure, however, and in 2014, the spacecraft embarked on an extended mission known as K2. 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.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched in April 2018, and produced a test image in May.

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