NASA’s Kepler Telescope Might Not Be Doomed… For Now
It's putting up a good fight.
The Kepler space telescope might be dying, but according to NASA, it’s not dead yet. The space agency says the iconic but admittedly outdated Kepler just woke up from a four-week hibernation and is ready to get back to work.
NASA announced on Friday that the famed telescope woke up from its month-long nap on Thursday and is already feeling more rested and collecting data for agency once again. Prior to the hibernation, Kepler was left with extremely low fuel levels and running out of time to transmit data from its 18th observing campaign. To ensure that the mission would still be able to send messages to NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), the agency put Kepler in a prolonged sleep to save thruster fuel.
The $600 million mission first launched in March 2009 and has had a profound impact on scientists’ understanding of deep space and the potential for extraterrestrial life. The Kepler mission has discovered 2,650 planets since it launched using the “transit method,” by which it observes roughly 150,000 stars in certain regions of space and detects dips in brightness. It also collects data on the size, distance, and temperatures of each newly discovered planet which can determine if it’s habitable.
However, the mission has hit many roadblocks in its 9-year tenure. In 2013, a malfunctioned reaction wheel on the spacecraft prevented it from holding its gaze steady at the original field of view. NASA fixed the problem by launching K2 in 2014, or “Second Light,” which used the pressure from the sun to keep it stabilized and continue observing space for new planets.
Initially, the Kepler team estimated that the K2 mission would only conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel. However, Kepler keeps proving there’s still life in it, and the mission is about to complete the data transmission of its 18th campaign. It’s 19th and final campaign will start on August 6, assuming enough fuel remains.
Although the Kepler mission is nearing its end, it put up one of the longest fights of any deep space mission. Because of this, NASA is asking people to celebrate the mission’s legacy through the #moreplanetsthanstars campaign, a chance for NASA to reflect on nine years of findings and for fans to share their love of Kepler creatively, such as with music, artwork, and dance.