NASA has confirmed that its Kepler Space Telescope will soon reach its finish line as it will run out of fuel in a few months time.
Launched back in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft was designed to search for Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting their host stars. It is currently orbiting the sun from a distance of 94 million miles away from Earth. Until now, it has successfully found 2,245 confirmed exoplanets while 2,342 more are awaiting confirmation.
Notably, once the Kepler spacecraft’s fuel reserves dry out completely, it would still stay in orbit but it will lose the ability to send back data to the Earth. In simple words, it will become useless. In absence of a fuel gauge, the NASA team isn’t able to predict the exact fuel levels. So, the team will try to get as much information from Kepler as possible over the next few months as they want to ensure that the spacecraft sends all of the data it can back to Earth.
“Our current estimates are that Kepler’s tank will run dry within several months – but we’ve been surprised by its performance before! So, while we anticipate flight operations ending soon, we are prepared to continue as long as the fuel allows,” noted Charlie Sobeck, a system engineer for the Kepler space telescope mission.
Back in 2013, scientists anticipated the end of Kepler after it lost the ability to steady itself on any target after second of the total four reaction wheel broke. However, scientists managed to fix the issue in 2014 after they programmed the space telescope to use solar wind pressure that would make it steady and focused on a particular target. They also renamed the Kepler mission as Kepler K2 mission citing the new lease of life.
Notably, the replacement for the Kepler mission is already in the works. NASA is going to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission on April 16 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.