NASA Readies to Extract Data as Kepler Runs 'Very Low' on Fuel

NASA Kepler Space Telescope Venus like planet Kepler 1649 M dwarf stars SETI Institute NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre exoplanet discoveries new telescopes Science Science news

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

It found thousands of new planets, some Earth-like, during its time in space, but as fuel is low for the spacecraft, it will soon be time to put the telescope to rest.

The Kepler mission team recently received an indication that the spacecraft is running very low on fuel.

NASA expects that observations for the next campaign can start with the remaining fuel once the science data have been downloaded.

If the manoeuvre and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel, NASA said, adding that it will provide an update after the scheduled download.

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.

According to NASA, Kepler staff have put the craft into hibernation mode until August, when the plan to turn it back on and use NASA's Deep Space Network to transfer mission data back to Earth. "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. Data gathered during this second look should give researchers an opportunity to confirm previously known exoplanet candidates and potentially discovering new ones. 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.

When flight controllers send commands to wake up the planet hunter, Kepler will re-orient itself and downlink the stored data. Four wheels rotate in the gyroscope to provide a reaction that allows the necessarily precision in tracking, and two of the four failed by May 2013.

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.

Initially, the Kepler team estimated that the K2 mission could conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel.

Reborn as "K2", this extended mission requires the spacecraft to shift its field of view to new portions of the sky roughly every three months in what scientists refer to as a "campaign".

NASA in April launched another planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess). The craft is now on its 18th K2 observation campaign.

Latest News