NASA's Kepler Telescope almost out of fuel, forced to nap

10 Juillet, 2018, 14:44 | Auteur: Therese Cote
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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.

NASA announced Friday that Kepler will be put in a hibernation-like state as fuel has become very low. If enough fuel remains after the August 2 phone call home, campaign 19 will begin on August 6, NASA officials said. The mission team has been closely monitoring the spacecraft for signs of low fuel, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

On April 18, 2018, Kepler's planet-hunting successor, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

"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", NASA officials wrote in a statement today. Returning these data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel of the spacecraft.

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. The space- based telescope is now stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.

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When flight controllers send commands to wake up the planet hunter, Kepler will re-orient itself and downlink the stored data. 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. The second-look data will allow astronomers to verify or rule out exoplanet candidates found earlier and identify new candidates in the process.

The Kepler Space Telescope has been in a heliocentric orbit around Earth since 2009.

Kepler suffered a mechanical malfunction with its steering system in 2013, forcing scientists to develop a clever alternate plan in which they used pressure from the sun's rays to act as a stand-in for one of its failed reaction wheels. The 19th observation campaign is scheduled to start on August 6, but before that on August 2, Kepler will be brought out of its low power mode.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. During its time, Kepler has discovered 2,650 confirmed planets.

Kepler has been searching for planets outside our solar system for almost a decade.

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