NASA Kepler spacecraft very low on fuel, put into hibernation mode

Mindy Sparks
July 10, 2018

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

The Kepler space telescope, which is now 94 million miles away from Earth, has survived many potential knock-outs during its nine years in flight, from mechanical failures to being blasted by cosmic rays.

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. This new phase, called K2, is imperfect, and NASA originally believed it would only allow for 10 observation campaigns with the remaining fuel. The highest priority for Kepler's remaining fuel is to return the data back to Earth.

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.

News Brief: NASA has hit the pause button on observations by its most prolific planet-hunting probe, the Kepler space telescope, so that it can download 51 days' worth science data without interruption. They will then maneuver it into the proper orientation for transmimitting the data. If enough fuel remains after the August 2 phone call home, campaign 19 will begin on August 6, NASA officials said. The reason? Kepler's fuel tanks are close to empty.

NASA will provide an update after the scheduled download.

As engineers preserve the new data stored on the spacecraft, scientists are continuing to mine existing data already on the ground. 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.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically created to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

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. Kepler was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies and had a planned operational life of about three and a half years. 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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