Kepler is ready to report for duty. The spacecraft has once again awoken to continue searching the stars for even more alien planets.
NASA, on its website, gave an update on Kepler's situation saying that the spacecraft is back to observing the Milky Way. This is the space-based observatory's 19th and possibly final campaign.
Kepler Still Fighting
The Kepler spacecraft was launched in March of 2009 to find exoplanets similar to Earth. So far, it has discovered more than 2,600 planets across the galaxy, 30 of which exist within the habitable zones of their individual star systems.
At its prime, the $600-million spacecraft was able to study more than 150,000 stars at the same time to look for brightness dips — a sign that the star has been temporarily eclipsed by a passing planet.
However, after nine years of service, the spacecraft might be ready to retire. NASA announced in March that Kepler's mission is soon coming to an end. After battling and surviving many potential knockouts, including mechanical failure and being blasted by cosmic rays, it is now running low on fuel.
The agency could not give a specific timeline because the spacecraft has no gauge, but they expect the spacecraft to shut off any moment now.
On Aug. 24, NASA placed Kepler on sleep mode after it finished sending data from Campaign 18 back to Earth. The space agency assessed the health of the spacecraft and found no "systemic problems" aside from an issue on one of its thrusters that engineers were able to bypass by modifying its configuration.
"One of the eight thrusters had shown unreliable performance, but the team estimated that simply removing the thruster from use during precision pointing firings could result in acceptable system performance," said NASA spokesperson Alison Hawkes. "As a result, the changes were made and Campaign 19 was, as it were, joined in progress."
Hawkes added that the space agency is not sure whether the problem with the thruster was related to fuel. NASA will continue to observe the health of Kepler.
The Hunt For Earth-Like Planet Continues
TESS, or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, the mission that will take the mantle from Kepler in the hopes of finding exoplanets orbiting nearby stars, has already been launched to space. It has already started sending images back home compiled to a video below.
TESS, like Kepler, is expected to discover new Earth-like planets by observing dimming star lights.