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Kepler Spacecraft’s Fuel Tank is Running Very Low

11 July 2018

An artist's illustration of NASA's Kepler space telescope, which has discovered about 70 percent of all known exoplanets to date. The agency has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

Earlier this week, NASA's Kepler team received an indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low.

Flight controllers placed the planet-hunting spacecraft into hibernation last week to save energy.

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Since May 12th, Kepler has been on its 18 observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015. The data from this mission will help astronomers to confirm previous exoplanet candidates, as well as find any new candidates. Returning these data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel of the spacecraft.

According to NASA, Kepler staff have put the craft into hibernation mode until August, when the plan to turn it back on and use NASA's Deep Space Network to transfer mission data back to Earth. If enough fuel remains after the August 2 phone call home, campaign 19 will begin on August 6, NASA officials said.

Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel, the announcement added.

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Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically created to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

As of now, NASA reports that Kepler has been on its 18 mission since May this year. As the spaceship is in deep space region and is around 94M milers away from the orbit of earth, and there is no possibility that it will hit any life-bearing planet like icy moon, NASA is allowed to keep in the spaceship in working condition until it gives up. "Interestingly, Kepler used the pressure of the sun to maintain its gaze, 'like a kayak steering into the current", says Sobeck, reports the UK's Daily Mail.

Kepler continues to search for exoplanets during K2, but it's studying a variety of other celestial objects and phenomena as well.

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But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. Once Kepler finally cease to function it will partly replace TESS space telescope, created to search for planets around other stars. The planets come in all sizes and shapes and range from Jupiter like big and weird sized planet that orbit a binary star system to the ones that are closer in size and orbit to Earth.

Kepler Spacecraft’s Fuel Tank is Running Very Low