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article imageKepler Space Telescope signals it's not finished with its mission

By Karen Graham     Sep 7, 2018 in Technology
Despite a malfunctioning thruster and painfully low levels of fuel, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope is still soldiering on, collecting scientific data and looking for new exoplanets.
Kepler's endurance in overcoming several failures is also evidence of the excellent technology that went into producing the remarkable space telescope.
Kepler was launched in March 2009, tasked with determining how common Earth-like planets are around the galaxy., a mission that was expected to last three and a half years. Now, nine and a half years later, Kepler has looked at about 150,000 stars and confirmed 2,327 exoplanets.
However, as Digital Journal reported in July, the Kepler Space Telescope is almost out of fuel, which means its life is coming to an end. NASA announced on July 7, the planet-hunting spacecraft had been put into a “hibernation” safe mode.
The Kepler Mission has discovered 1 030 Earth-like planets since 2009.
The Kepler Mission has discovered 1,030 Earth-like planets since 2009.
On August 24, Kepler was able to transmit data from its 18th campaign of the K2 phase of the mission. Mission controllers then waited to see what would happen with the space telescope. Would it die? There is just no way to say how much fuel is left, and this means Kepler could die today or months from now.
But surprise, surprise - Kepler woke up again, returned to duty on August 29th. and began Campaign 19. But it's still unclear what the future holds for the spacecraft, NASA officials announced.
"After being roused from sleep mode, the spacecraft's configuration has been modified due to the unusual behavior exhibited by one of the thrusters," they wrote in its September 5 update. "Preliminary indications are that the telescope's pointing performance may be somewhat degraded. It remains unclear how much fuel remains; NASA continues to monitor the health and performance of the spacecraft."
This artist's concept released April 17  2014 by NASA/JPL-CALTECH depicts Kepler-186f  the firs...
This artist's concept released April 17, 2014 by NASA/JPL-CALTECH depicts Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone
T. Pyle, NASA/JPL-Caltech/AFP
NASA won’t know if Kepler is making observations of any quality until the data gets transmitted back to Earth, which should happen in a couple of months, and then again, Kepler could finally take its last picture, NASA just doesn't know when that moment will occur, reports Gizmodo.
But NASA has already launched Kepler's successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which will also hunt for exoplanets. The spacecraft, launched in April, is designed to find Earth-sized planets that orbit within the "habitable zone" of stars.
Yes, Kepler will eventually die, even though it keeps struggling to complete its mission. But as Engadget points out, with NASA's experience in building spacecraft and rovers that seem to last far longer than intended, let's just hope that the Mars rover Opportunity, will also wake up, refusing to die.
More about Kepler space telescope, NASA, Deep Space Network, Hibernation, Exoplanets