NASA's Kepler Telescope almost out of fuel, forced to nap
NASA's Kepler Telescope almost out of fuel, forced to nap
An artist's illustration of NASA's Kepler space telescope which has discovered about 70 percent of all known exoplanets to date. Credit NASA
10 July, 2018, 14:46
Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015. 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. An academic paper released on June 29 added 44 more validated planets to the mission's total using data from the 10th observation campaign of the K2 phase conducted in 2016.
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 telescope will then begin its 19th campaign with its remaining fuel. The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. They will then maneuver it into the proper orientation for transmimitting the data. On August 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data.
NASA is unable to determine the exact amount of fuel left within Kepler, as there is no onboard gas gauge.
NASA plans to provide an update on Kepler's status following the scheduled data download.
As engineers work to collect the data now aboard the spacecraft, researchers are analyzing data already returned to Earth.
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. Considered the pioneer of planet hunting, it's discovered almost 3,000 confirmed worlds and as many potential candidates.
We don't yet know if there's life on other worlds, however likely that is, but NASA's Kepler Mission satellite has helped pinpoint the abundance of planets orbiting other stars starting in May 2009. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004.Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.
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