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

James Marshall
July 10, 2018

The US space agency has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel for quite some time now, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

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. If enough fuel remains after the August 2 phone call home, campaign 19 will begin on August 6, NASA officials said. 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.

An artist's illustration of NASA's Kepler space telescope, which has discovered about 70 percent of all known exoplanets to date.

To return that data to Earth, Kepler must point its large antenna back home and then transmit the data during the spacecraft's allotted Deep Space Network time in early August.

"Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode", they added. The space- based telescope is now stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.

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. The team has paused the spacecraft's planet-hunting science observations and placed it in a hibernation-like state to prepare to download the science data collected during its most recent observation campaign.

In terms of Kepler, the space telescope lifted off from Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 17, atop its United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket (7925-10L) on March 7, 2009.

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. 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. If successful, the science team hopes to resume operations 6 August, beginning its 19th campaign, which will continue until the spacecraft runs out of propellant and can no longer orient itself.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate.

Kepler has completed 18 K2 campaigns to date. Kepler's new mission went into effect in May 2014, and it continued to find new planets outside of the solar system, thousands of light years away.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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