NASA Puts its Planet Exploring Spacecraft Kepler to Sleep Mode

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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). The planet-hunting spacecraft was placed into hibernation safe mode past Monday to prepare for the downloading of the science data collected during the observatory's latest observation campaign. 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 has been on its 18th observation since May 12 of this year (2018), studying a cluster of stars near the constellation of Cancer that the spacecraft had previously observed in 2015.

The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. The highest priority for Kepler's remaining fuel is to return the data back to Earth.

NASA is unable to determine the exact amount of fuel that remained in Kepler, since the telescope has no onboard gas sensor.

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Kepler will point its large antenna in the direction of Earth to transmit data. The space telescope will then begin its 19th campaign with its remaining fuel.

NASA expects that observations for the next campaign can start with the remaining fuel once the science data have been downloaded.

On August 2, the Kepler team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and manoeuvre the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data.

During its primary mission, Kepler stared at about 150,000 stars simultaneously, hunting for promising transits. The spacecraft, launched in April, is created to find Earth-sized planets that orbit within the "habitable zone" of stars.

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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. Researchers repurposed the spacecraft by changing its field of view and named this extended mission K2.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. TESS is expected to discover thousands of exoplanets orbiting nearby stars over the course of its planned two year mission.

After spending nearly a decade in space, NASA's Kepler spacecraft is nearing the end of its journey.

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