March 20, 2019

RIP Kepler Space Telescope - Out of fuel and out of time

03 November 2018, 06:59 | Dale Webster

Enlarge NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has run out

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has run out of fuel

'As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond, ' said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Now orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million km) from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the U.S. space agency said.

Nasa said it has made a decision to retire the spacecraft "within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth".

Nasa says Kepler's mission may be over but its discoveries will be studied for years to come.

"The Kepler mission has been an enormous success", said Bill Borucki, the original Kepler principal investigator and leader of the team that convinced NASA to build and launch the $692 million mission in 2009.

Kepler is being retired into a safe orbit 94 million miles away from the Earth, after being the agency's first mission to successfully find Earth-size planets orbiting within the habitable zones of their stars NASA said.

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, some mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. "This is not unexpected, and this marks the end of spacecraft operations for Kepler and the end of the collection of science data".

NASA launched the Kepler telescope on March 6, 2009, to learn if Earth-like planets that might harbor life are common or rare in other star systems. By fixating on a specific area of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler was able to continuously monitor the varying brightnesses of roughly 150,000 stars.

Six months after announcing the spacecraft's fuel stores were beginning to deplete, NASA announced Keplar's day had finally come on Wednesday.

Signals that fuel was almost out were seen two weeks ago and scientists were able to get all the data from Kepler down to Earth before it completely ran dry.

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, was launched in April and started sending back science data this summer. "Kepler has had a successful nine-and-a-half year mission". TESS is created to survey about 200,000 stars across a wide stretch of sky in our celestial neighborhood, and identify prospects for further study.

Both missions, with their vastly distinct data sets, have given scientists here on Earth a lot to think about.

Astronomers were dazzled by the planets it found, including Kepler-22b, probably a water world between the size of Earth and Neptune.

NASA's most prolific planet-hunter is powering down after almost a decade of revealing the diversity of our galaxy's planets.

Kepler's mission is over, but its legacy lives on.

"While this may be a sad event, we are by no means unhappy with the performance of this marvellous machine", NASA project system engineer Charlie Sobeck said.

"NASA is handing off the mantle of planet hunter from the Kepler space telescope to TESS", Hertz declared.

As we prepare to say goodbye to these two record-breaking missions, we rejoice in the fact that discoveries will still arise from their data decades into the future.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries", said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

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