NASA retires its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope

Audrey Hill
November 2, 2018

A replacement: Several exoplanet-hunting missions are in the works, including the James Webb Space Telescope, now due to launch in 2021 after a series of delays.

Kepler has finally run out of fuel. The spacecraft had been in what NASA called a "no-fuel-use" safe mode since it was contacted by controllers October 19.

NASA announced Tuesday that Kepler, an orbital telescope that's been spotting and analyzing distant planets for the past nine years, has run out of fuel and will no longer carry out scientific research. "This is not unexpected, and this marks the end of spacecraft operations for Kepler and the end of the collection of science data".

Space fans have known Kepler's end was coming for some time. In July, and again in September, the spacecraft entered safe mode after showing signs of declining fuel levels. "That's what told us very, very clearly that we were now out of fuel and operating on fumes".

Mission engineers are preparing to turn off the spacecraft's radio transmitters, leaving it to forever orbit around the Sun. The sequence of commands for doing so has been transmitted to the spacecraft, awaiting a final command from the ground to run them.

"There's just a big difference between believing and knowing", Sobeck said. "I suspect we will be doing that next week or maybe the week after", he said.

In addition to the confirmed exoplanets it discovered Kepler found an additional 2,900 candidates awaiting vetting, many of which could be confirmed.

Kepler hands off the baton to TESS now, NASA said.

Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters, said the Kepler mission "revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos".

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"Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy", he added.

"We have shown there are more planets than stars in our galaxy, that many of these planets are roughly the size of the Earth and some, like the Earth, are at the right distance from their star that there could be liquid water on the surface, a situation conducive to the existence of life", Borucki said.

A successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA's Tess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home.

A marvel of engineering The $600 million Kepler mission found 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.

Its positioning system broke down in 2013, though scientists found a way to keep it operational. "But now we know. that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy".

"The Kepler mission has been an enormous success", said Bill Borucki, the original Kepler principal investigator and leader of the team that convinced NASA to build and launch the $692 million mission in 2009.

Tess will mainly scout for planets in the Goldilocks zone of a star.

In 2012 scientists were anxious when there were some irreparable rendered happened with the spacecraft were ineffective steering malfunction in 2012 but fortunately, they came up with an ingenious solution in 2013 by using the pressure which is generated by ray's of the sun for a failed reaction wheel. "And, boy, are we glad that he did that".

Four years into the mission, the main goals had been met, but mechanical failures put a sudden end to future observations. He noted the spacecraft had occasional glitches, but nothing that could not be corrected. "It was really something I could be fond of".

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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