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Houston We've Got A Problem: NASA's Planet-Hunting Kepler Spacecraft Is In Emergency Mode

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Kepler spacecraft is in emergency mode, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in a statement.

Charlie Sobeck, Kepler and K2 mission manager at NASA's Ames Research Center announced that after a scheduled contact with mission operations engineers last April 7, it was discovered that Kepler is presently in emergency mode (EM), the spacecraft's lowest operational mode.

The team is working on recovering from EM, as it consumes significant amount of fuel. Since the spacecraft is 75 million miles away from Earth, even with the speed of light, communication takes about 13 minutes for the message to travel from the spacecraft and back.

For this, the spacecraft now has priority access to ground-based communication on NASA's Deep Space Network.

The spacecraft was fully operational and in good condition last April 4.

According to the mission engineers, the spacecraft entered into EM about 36 hours prior to maneuvering towards the center of the Milky Way. The extended mission's purpose is to continue planet hunting and provide study material for supernovae, young stars, and other astronomical objects using gravitational microlensing.

The agency said that they will provide further information about the spacecraft once it has more updates.

Launched in 2009, Kepler's primary mission was to look for planets outside the Solar System. The mission, which was completed in 2012, detected about 5,000 exoplanets, more than 1,000 of which were confirmed.

The team hopes to restore Kepler's operations back to normal as it did before. In July 2012, one of the gyroscopic reaction wheels that help aim the spacecraft failed. The second wheel failed in May 2013. The K2 mission began in 2014 and proceeded by using the sun's radiation pressure to orient the spacecraft.

"The chance for the K2 mission to use gravity to help us explore exoplanets is one of the most fantastic astronomical experiments of the decade," said Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA's Kepler and K2 mission.

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