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

10 July 2018

The US space agency has placed the spacecraft in a no-fuel-use safe mode to save the remaining fuel so that data extraction can be completed, NASA said on Friday.

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

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. Astronomers hope that the latest data will provide them with a chance to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and find new ones.

To get the stored data back to waiting scientists, Kepler must aim its high-gain antenna at Earth and wait for an already-booked communications window with NASA's Deep Space Network to open. The space- based telescope is now stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. 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.

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.

For now, Kepler's team is concentrating on the downloading of data gathered during the spacecraft's most recent observation.

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.

During its primary mission, Kepler stared at about 150,000 stars simultaneously, hunting for promising transits.

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.

Once brought out of the mode, the spacecraft will be reorientated for the downlink of the scientific data. 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.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate. The craft is now on its 18th K2 observation campaign. Per NASA, while the original Kepler mission discovered 2,244 candidate exoplanets and 2,327 confirmed exoplanets, the extended K2 mission has managed to identify 479 candidates and confirm 323 others.

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