NASA announced that its famous Kepler space telescope is running out of fuel and could shut down permanently in the following months. Kepler was first launched in 2009 with the main goal of spotting Earth-like exoplanets in distant solar systems.
Despite the many issues encountered in the past, the space observatory has done an amazing job. This time, however, Kepler cannot be saved. The space agency found that its fuel tanks will be empty in just a few months.
NASA is now racing against time to get the most important projects completed. Kepler is located at 94 million miles away from our planet, and it is taking snaps of the sky. The spacecraft has limited mobility because of an incident in 2013, when it lost another reaction wheel. Without its four reaction wheels it cannot reposition itself at will.
At the time, NASA thought that the telescope was dead, but thanks to a new method, researchers managed to stabilize the spacecraft and start a new phase of the mission dubbed ‘K2’.
Kepler Has a Replacement
During the K2, the observatory repositioned itself every 90 days. NASA initially estimated that it could only survive ten repositioning moves before its fuel run dry. Currently, Kepler repositioned itself for the 17th time since the start of the K2 phase.
NASA couldn’t tell how much fuel was left in the tanks. The agency estimates that the fuel level is low because the thrusters are not working properly and the tank’s pressure is unusually low.
So far, Kepler has helped NASA detect 2,342 new exoplanets. NASA is now working on what to do with the space observatory in its last days and how to find a proper replacement.
The likely successor will be the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) which is slated for launch in April. TESS comes with four state-of-the-art cameras which enable it to snap pictures of more than 200,000 stars.
Image Source: NASA