NASA’s Kepler Telescope nearly out of fuel, forced to nap

Kepler K2

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, one of the prolific telescopes ever, has helped identify thousands of exoplanets, many of which could even host life since it was launched in 2009.

On Saturday, July 7, NASA experts stated that the space telescope spent nearly all the fuel, and the space Agency chose to send the machine into sleep mode.

Among other findings, recently 24 new planet discoveries were made using data from the 10th observation campaign, adding to the spacecraft's growing bounty of 2,650 confirmed planets. 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.

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.

The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. In that time, the Kepler will wake up and maneuver itself with the remaining fuel so that its antenna will point toward Earth. 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. If enough fuel remains after the August 2 phone call home, campaign 19 will begin on August 6, NASA officials said. NASA knew that one day Kepler would run out of fuel so NASA plans to start a 19th discrete "observation campaign" of "K2" mission. The mission team are planning to awaken the spacecraft from safe mode on August 2.

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The Kepler launch was held on 6 March 2009 at 22:49 on the East coast of the United States. Refueling the spacecraft is not an option; Kepler orbits the sun, not Earth, and it's now millions of miles from our planet.

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.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate. The mission resumed under the moniker K2 in May 2014. It used transit method to find planets orbiting around the stars.

The ultra-sensitive CCD sensors making up the Kepler Space Telescope's camera are created to look for the slight dimming of a star's brightness that might indicate a planet passing in front as viewed from Earth.

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