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

08 Juillet, 2018, 09:53 | Auteur: Therese Cote

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

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.

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. Until this time, Kepler will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. According to NASA, May 12 marked the start of Kepler's 18th observational campaign, which involved focusing on the Cancer constellation. The hibernation-like mode will conserve fuel in preparation for this download period, after which point NASA plans to send Kepler off to make more observations. That mission will continue for however long the fuel lasts; the space agency expects this to be "in the next few months".

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Launched in 2009 with an objective to learn more about the number and frequency of planets in our galaxy, the telescope which is some 94 million miles away from Earth has continuously monitored over 150,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region and has discovered over 4,600 planet candidates as per the data provided by NASA. The move has been taken in order to prepare the spacecraft to download the data collected in its latest observation campaign.

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. Kepler is doing this extended-mission work during roughly 80-day "campaigns", each of which has a slightly different focus. TESS is a massive upgrade, observing nearly 400 times the region of space as Kepler, or about 85% of what's observable from its orbit relative to Earth.

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