NASA’s Kepler space telescope has done a commendable job of discovering thousands of exoplanets outside our solar system since its launch in 2009. Until now, it has successfully found 2,245 confirmed exoplanets while 2,342 more are awaiting confirmation.
Unfortunately, the alien planet-hunting space probe is almost nearing its death now as the spacecraft’s fuel tank is running very low. The US space agency has reportedly put the nine-year-old telescope in a hibernation mode to download as much data as it can before the telescope runs out of fuel completely.
Once the Kepler spacecraft’s fuel reserves dry out completely, it will continue to stay in orbit but will become useless as it will lose the ability to send back data to the Earth. The NASA team cannot predict the exact fuel levels in absence of a fuel gauge. So, the team is trying to extract as much information from Kepler as possible in the next few days.
After downloading the data, NASA will switch Kepler on again to continue its observations till it eventually runs out of fuel.
“Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel,” NASA officials said.
Back in 2013, when one of Kepler’s four reaction wheel broke, it lost the ability to steady itself on any target after. Thankfully, scientists were successful in fixing the issue in 2014. They programmed the space telescope to use solar wind pressure to steer in place of its failed reaction wheels. They also renamed the Kepler mission as Kepler K2 mission citing the new lease of life.
The NASA team will awaken the spacecraft back from its no-fuel-use state on August 2. They will then start Kepler’s 19th and final space observation mission by 6 August with what little fuel is left in the tank.