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

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

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

Launched in 2009, NASA's famous "planet-hunting" telescope "Kepler" is being put into hibernation as it has nearly run out of fuel.

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.

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. On August 2nd, 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. 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. The spacecraft finds alien worlds via the "transit method", noticing the tiny brightness dips caused when orbiting planets cross a star's face from Kepler's perspective. Sending these data to the Ground is the highest priority of the mission.

In 2013, Kepler's primary mission ended when a second reaction wheel broke, rendering it unable to hold its gaze steady at the original field of view.

Don't miss out on the latest news and information. What makes Tatooine one of the most freaky exoplanets ever found is that it is orbiting two host stars which make it be a circumbinary planet. The decision to put Kepler into the hibernation-like state was due to a recent "indication" that it is "very low" on fuel.

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.

Kepler continues to search for exoplanets during K2, but it's studying a variety of other celestial objects and phenomena as well. As the spaceship is in deep space region and is around 94M milers away from the orbit of earth, and there is no possibility that it will hit any life-bearing planet like icy moon, NASA is allowed to keep in the spaceship in working condition until it gives up.

NASA has already launched Kepler's successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which will also hunt for exoplanets. "Interestingly, Kepler used the pressure of the sun to maintain its gaze, 'like a kayak steering into the current", says Sobeck, reports the UK's Daily Mail.