"Alien Life Payload?" NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Downloads Exoplanet Science Data
10 July, 2018, 14:43 | Author: Kelly Sanders
Launched in 2009, NASA's famous "planet-hunting" telescope "Kepler" is being put into hibernation as it has nearly run out of fuel.
Almost out of fuel after nine years of trail-blazing searches for exoplanets, NASA's' Kepler satellite has been put in a state of electronic hibernation in preparation for downloading stored data from its latest observation campaign.
NASA expects that observations for the next campaign can start with the remaining fuel once the science data have been downloaded.
NASA is unable to determine the exact amount of fuel left within Kepler, as there is no onboard gas gauge.
Kepler is the space observatory NASA launched back in 2009 as part of its hunt for Earth-like planets.
"The Kepler team is planning to collect as much science data as possible in its remaining time and beam it back to Earth before the loss of the fuel-powered thrusters means that we can't aim the spacecraft for data transfer". In that time, the Kepler will wake up and maneuver itself with the remaining fuel so that its antenna will point toward Earth. An academic paper released on June 29 added 44 more validated planets to the mission's total using data from the 10th observation campaign of the K2 phase conducted in 2016.
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 Kepler team will wake up the spacecraft on August 2 and maneuver it to the correct orientation to downlink the data. The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. Until this time, Kepler will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.
In terms of Kepler, the space telescope lifted off from Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 17, atop its United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket (7925-10L) on March 7, 2009.
During its mission, the Kepler suffered multiple issues. The team will start its 19th observation campaign on August 6 if the download is successful.
It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate.
But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. Per NASA, while the original Kepler mission discovered 2,244 candidate exoplanets and 2,327 confirmed exoplanets, the extended K2 mission has managed to identify 479 candidates and confirm 323 others. Kepler's new mission went into effect in May 2014, and it continued to find new planets outside of the solar system, thousands of light years away.
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