NASA's iconic Kepler space telescope - which has discovered 70 percent of the 3,750 exoplanets known to date - is running so low on fuel that the agency has put it into a hibernation-like state, agency officials announced today (July 6). It will remain asleep until early August, when controllers attempt to send down the data collected before observations were interrupted.
NASA is unable to determine the exact amount of fuel left within Kepler, as there is no onboard gas gauge.
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 Kepler team is planning to collect as much science data as possible in its remaining time and beam it back to Earth before the loss of the fuel-powered thrusters means that we can't aim the spacecraft for data transfer".
"Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode", they added.
Flight controllers placed the planet-hunting spacecraft into hibernation last week to save energy.
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On August 2, NASA will wake-up Kepler and maneuver the spacecraft to begin transmission of the latest data.
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. "On Aug. 2, 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".
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. Four wheels rotate in the gyroscope to provide a reaction that allows the necessarily precision in tracking, and two of the four failed by May 2013.
Initially, the Kepler team estimated that the K2 mission could conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel. The craft is now on its 18th K2 observation campaign.
But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon.
So far, Kepler, one of NASA's most successful science spacecraft, has confirmed some 2,650 exoplanets over the course of its mission.
Kepler has been searching for planets outside our solar system for almost a decade.