From space the Kepler telescope runs out of fuel

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

An artist's illustration of NASA's Kepler space telescope which has discovered about 70 percent of all known exoplanets to date. Credit NASA

NASA's storied Kepler Space Telescope - the craft which has discovered thousands of exoplanets since its launch in 2009 - is entering the retirement phase of its lifespan. The maneuvers required to point the antenna toward spacecraft are the most fuel-intensive tasks that the spacecraft performs and at any point, Kepler's fuel tank may run dry. The space agency has put the satellite into a form of hibernation until August 2, when there's time booked on the Deep Space Network-a global array of receivers for space missions-to download data from its 18th observational mission.

While the spacecraft hibernates the mission team will download the science data collected in its latest observation campaign. This will be possible only after a few weeks, so the last remnants of fuel are saved for the last stage of operation of the probe.

Since May 12th, Kepler has been on its 18 observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015. The second-look data will allow astronomers to verify or rule out exoplanet candidates found earlier and identify new candidates in the process. The highest priority for Kepler's remaining fuel is to return the data back to Earth. The fuel is needed for pointing the telescope. The space telescope will then begin its 19th campaign with its remaining fuel.

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

NASA has announced that its Kepler team has put the spacecraft into a state similar to hibernation.

This artist's concept illustrates the two Saturn-sized planets discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. "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. Researchers repurposed the spacecraft by changing its field of view and named this extended mission K2.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. The $600 million Kepler mission finds alien worlds using the "transit method", picking up on tiny brightness dips caused when orbiting planets cross a star's face - as seen from Kepler's perspective. The space telescope while proving to be an invaluable tool for gathering data from across the universe, suffered a mechanical malfunction to its systems in 2013, and was unable to steer effectively.

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