NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope earned a reputation for being quite the capable exoplanet hunter, but after all these years of memorable service to the scientific community, the spacecraft is officially running out of fuel.
Image Credit: NASA
NASA’s been keeping the public apprised about the situation since March, and while the space agency took precautions by downloading most of Kepler’s scientific data earlier in the year, Kepler never stopped analyzing the heavens for hidden worlds.
But that’s about to change.
NASA recently issued a statement to the public highlighting how Kepler’s precise pointing performance appears to be degrading. It’s unquestionably a nasty side-effect of the spacecraft’s exhausted fuel reserves, but the space agency isn’t taking any chances.
In an effort to preserve the valuable scientific information stored in Kepler’s onboard storage systems, NASA ordered the spacecraft into a no-fuel sleep mode that should sustain its remaining fuel until the space agency can download the remaining data. This mode is different from the low-power state NASA put the spacecraft in back in July.
Citing NASA’s statement, most of Kepler’s current data encompasses the constellation of Aquarius, which the spacecraft began observing in August.
The Kepler Space Telescope doesn’t have a gas gauge as a consumer car does, so NASA relies on pertinent information such as fuel tank pressure and thruster performance to approximate how much fuel remains. Kepler’s inability to keep a steady and precise direction is indicative of poor thruster performance.
To put it lightly, the Kepler Space Telescope is now running on fumes and not much else.
NASA engineers are still mulling over how they’ll obtain the remaining data from Kepler. In the meantime, astronomers are still sifting through older Kepler data just in case it contains vital information about the universe around us.
While the Kepler mission indeed appears to be nearing its end, its legacy won’t be forgotten. NASA’s new TESS mission will pick up where Kepler left off, studying the vastness of outer space for the presence of distant exoplanets such that we can learn more about their formation and whether they’re potentially habitable or not.
The future looks bright for exoplanetary research despite the circumstances surrounding the Kepler Space Telescope.