The Kepler Space Telescope Is Dead

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

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel and will be retired, following a nine-and-a-half-year mission in search of planets that might harbour life beyond our solar system.

Voyage of discovery: Kepler was NASA's first planet-hunting mission and it was wildly successful: so far it has discovered 2,662 exoplanets in our galaxy.

Engineers noticed that the spacecraft was running low on fuel in June of this year (2018) and worked to ensure that the data on board was safely sent back to Earth.

The Kepler telescope discovered more than 2,600 of the roughly 3,800 exoplanets - the term for planets outside our solar system - that have been documented in the past two decades.

"It's a planet in between the size of the Earth and Neptune, unlike any planet in our solar system; it's a planet that may very well be a water world, a world covered in an ocean, and it's in the habitable zone", Borucki said during a news conference held yesterday (Oct. 30) to mark the end of Kepler's in-space work.

Four years into its mission, mechanical failures briefly halted observations.

Inside the Hazardous Processing Facility at Astrotech in Titusville, Fla., NASA's Kepler spacecraft is placed on a stand for fueling.

Later, these planets - and those found by Kepler - can be studied by the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able to look closer at the atmospheres and possibly determine their habitability. Over the life of the mission, more than 100,000 of those stars were actively monitored by Kepler. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbour life. The Kepler Mission, meanwhile, launched in 2009 and revealed that there is statistically at least one planet around every star in our galaxy.

In a briefing with reporters, agency officials said that Kepler ended operations after exhausting the last of its hydrazine fuel used for attitude control.

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In fact, scientists are expected to spend the next 10-plus years searching for new discoveries in the "treasure trove" of Kepler knowledge.

The next-generation planet hunter space telescope for Nasa, TESS, launched in April and will survey far more cosmic terrain than Kepler. That is, a small dip in the light from a star as the planet passed in front of it. 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. "We're confident that TESS is going to find thousands more planets, just like Kepler did".

"We are by no means disappointed in the performance of this spacecraft", Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center said.

Kepler was NASA's first planet-hunting mission, and it opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy and elsewhere.

This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler's count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000. "And the Kepler mission has paved the way for future exoplanet-studying missions".

"That's the path Kepler has put us on", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The Kepler mission was named in honor of 17th century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion.

"Before we launched Kepler, we didn't know if planets were common or rare in our galaxy", he said.

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