"Alien Life Payload?" NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Downloads Exoplanet Science Data

08 Julio, 2018, 09:52 | Author: Enrique Watson

NASA revealed on Saturday, July 7, that the Kepler Space Telescope is nearly out of fuel and that the space agency chose to put the spacecraft in hibernation-like state. Returning these data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel of the spacecraft. For example, in addition to its impressive raw planet tally (which will go up significantly; scientists are still vetting more than 2,000 planet candidates detected by Kepler), the spacecraft's observations suggest that about 20 percent of sunlike stars host a roughly Earth-size planet in the habitable zone - that just-right range of distances where liquid water could exist on a world's surface. Kepler is set to wake up in August for the Deep Space Network time. The hibernation-like mode will conserve fuel in preparation for this download period, after which point NASA plans to send Kepler off to make more observations. Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically created to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets. If the maneuver and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel.

In 2013, Kepler's primary mission ended when a second reaction wheel broke, rendering it unable to hold its gaze steady at the original field of view. Engineers figured out a way to stabilize Kepler using sunlight pressure, however, and in 2014, the spacecraft embarked on an extended mission known as K2.

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Once brought out of the mode, the spacecraft will be reorientated for the downlink of the scientific data.

Initially, the Kepler team estimated that the K2 mission could conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel. The mission has already completed 17 campaigns, and since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon. During its time, Kepler has discovered 2,650 confirmed planets.

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