NASA Readies to Extract Data as Kepler Runs 'Very Low' on Fuel

NASA Readies to Extract Data as Kepler Runs'Very Low on Fuel

NASA Readies to Extract Data as Kepler Runs'Very Low on Fuel

The reason? Kepler's fuel tanks are close to empty.

"To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August", NASA officials wrote in a statement today.

Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign since May 12 collecting data from the part of the sky towards the constellation of Cancer that it earlier studied in 2015. Following that download, NASA will use the remaining fuel to start a 19th session. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel. Until this time, Kepler will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. That mission will continue for however long the fuel lasts; the space agency expects this to be "in the next few months". 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.

Launched in 2009 with an objective to learn more about the number and frequency of planets in our galaxy, the telescope which is some 94 million miles away from Earth has continuously monitored over 150,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region and has discovered over 4,600 planet candidates as per the data provided by NASA.

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.

Once brought out of the mode, the spacecraft will be reorientated for the downlink of the scientific data. Kepler is doing this extended-mission work during roughly 80-day "campaigns", each of which has a slightly different focus.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon.

NASA in April launched another planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess). TESS is a massive upgrade, observing nearly 400 times the region of space as Kepler, or about 85% of what's observable from its orbit relative to Earth.