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Out Of Fuel And Nearing End Of Mission, What’s Next For Kepler Telescope?

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Kepler space telescope will soon rest for good as it’s almost out of fuel and already forced into hibernation. The pioneering planet hunter has managed to discover almost 3,000 confirmed worlds as well as potential candidates.  ( NASA Ames/W. Stenzel )

It’s time for the Kepler space telescope to rest, as it’s now nearly out of fuel and already forced to take a nap. What’s in store for Kepler now?

Last week, flight controllers placed the spacecraft into hibernation to save energy, where it will stay asleep until early August. From there, they will try to send down the collected data before observations made by the planet hunter are interrupted.

NASA expects the observations for the next observation campaign can begin with the remaining fuel once the science data has been downloaded.

Planet-Scouring Achievements

Kepler has been looking for planets outside the solar system for almost a decade now. Deemed a pioneer in this endeavor, it has managed to discover almost 3,000 confirmed worlds as well as potential candidates, the Associated Press reported.

Since May 12, the seasoned space observatory has been on its 18th campaign, amassing data on an area of sky near the constellation of Cancer that it previously studied in 2015. It’s set to observe exoplanets, star clusters, asteroids, binary black holes, and more.

The latest data are hoped to provide the chance to confirm earlier exoplanet candidates and find new worlds.

Prospects And Next-Generation Planet Hunter

Kepler will move into position on Aug. 2, so that it can transmit back to Earth whatever data it has already collected. Engineers will afterward decide whether to boot it up again if there’s plenty of fuel left to begin another campaign, Popular Science noted.

“It’s like trying o decide when to gas up your car. Do you stop now? Or try to make it to the next station?” wrote system engineer Charlie Sobek back in May.

For Kepler, however, there’s no next station anymore. Scientists, therefore, want to stop collecting data while still comfortable that the spacecraft can return the data back to the home planet.

The prospects are glum for a 19th campaign or even a 20th, although back in 2014, the engineers thought they had enough fuel only for 10 campaigns.

While Kepler’s days are already numbered, NASA just recently launched Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS. This next-gen planet hunter will pick up where the legendary Kepler left off, tracking nearly 200,000 stars in an area within a 300-light year radius of Earth.

Data from TESS are anticipated beginning January 2019, with techniques polished during the time of Kepler missions and analysis now occurring for weeks, not months or years.

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