NASA is preparing for a life without the Kepler Space Telescope after it confirmed that five years after the ending of its primary mission, the spacecraft is about to run out of fuel.
Launched back in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft/telescope was created to search for Earth-like exoplanets orbiting around distant stars. Due to the mechanical breakdowns, the Kepler space telescope will be blasted hitting cosmic rays. On Wednesday NASA looked back on the possible failure the telescope narrowly avoided in 2013, in which a second reaction wheel broke and skewed it away from the direction it was meant to view. Once there is no more fuel, the ship will be abandoned and left adrift.
According to NASA, the Kepler team initially estimated that the K2 mission could conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel. NASA was able to salvage the telescope by using the pressure of sunlight on the spacecraft to maintain its position and rebranded the mission as K2. However, there are thousands of exoplanets that yet need to be affirmed. Against all odds, phase K2 has already completed 16 campaigns, and is now in the middle of its 17th.
But NASA will continue operating Kepler for as long as they can, with the hope that they can record any eleventh-hour exoplanet discoveries. "While we are now anticipating that the flight operations will end soon, we are prepared to continue as long as the fuel allows". The space telescope now on its 17th campaign.
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Last September, NASA sent the Cassini space craft on a "death dive" into Saturn, rather than risk it falling into one of the planet's moons, the agency explained.
"Without a gas gauge, we have been monitoring the spacecraft for warning signs of low fuel- such as a drop in the fuel tank's pressure and changes in the performance of the thrusters", Sobeck added, "But in the end, we only have an estimate - not precise knowledge".
Similar to Kepler, TESS will scan the skies for planets that lie outside our solar system. It seems that the time has arrived to say goodbye to the Kepler, one of the NASA's greatest astronomical tools which enabled scientists to find out the unseen exoplanets.