After finding thousands of exoplanets since it was launched into space in 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope reached the end of its life. It is not time to retire, according to NASA’s Friday announcement. The Kepler staff said they “received an indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low” and they have “placed the spacecraft in a hibernation-like state in preparation to download the science data collected in its latest observation campaign.”
Back in 2013, the telescope had a mechanical malfunction with the steering system. Scientists found a way to fix it by using pressure from the sun rays to act instead of one of the failed reaction wheels. Since then, Kepler began a second phase of its mission called K2. This made NASA believe that the craft would only perform ten observation campaigns, as it didn’t have enough fuel. However, it has worked better than expected and Kepler could observe pieces of space for almost 83 days at a time. The original Kepler Mission discovered 2,244 candidate exoplanets and 2,327 confirmed exoplanets. The K2 mission identified 479 candidates, confirming 323 others, reaching its 18th K2 observation campaign.
NASA cannot determine how much fuel is inside Kepler. But since it is orbiting Earth at almost 94 million miles away, it won’t hit any astronomical body, so the agency plans to make the craft work until it dies off.
The Last Observation Campaign and Kepler’s Successor: TESS
The staff will first put Kepler into hibernation until August, and they will turn it on and get the mission data back to Earth using NASA’s Deep Space Network. If they successfully retrieve the data, the Kepler staff will start a 19th observation campaign with the last remaining fuel.
Until now, Kepler discovered much information about the nature of the space outside our solar system, finding hot gas giants close to their stars, discovering binary star systems, red dwarfs orbited by rocky worlds and even a planet that looks like ours. Its successor is TESS the exoplanet hunter (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite). It is already in space, being launched this year in March, and it has sent impressive images with thousands of stars.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.