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As Kepler Running ‘low’ On Fuel Scientists At NASA Prepares To Download Data

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.

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NASA's PMC Turbo mission launched a giant balloon on July 8 to study PMCs at a height of 50 miles above the surface. Flickr
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Scientists at NASA are preparing to download the latest bit of data stored in its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope as the spacecraft is now running “very low” on fuel.

The US space agency has placed the spacecraft in a no-fuel-use safe mode to save the remaining fuel so that data extraction can be completed, NASA said on Friday.

On August 2, the Kepler team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and manoeuvre the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data.

Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel.

But as of now, returning the data back to Earth is the “highest priority” for the remaining fuel.

Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015.

The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones.

To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August.

Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.

If the manoeuvre and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel, NASA said, adding that it will provide an update after the scheduled download.

The US space agency has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel for quite some time now, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler mission is specifically designed 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.

Among other findings, recently 24 new planet discoveries were made using data from the 10th observation campaign, adding to the spacecraft’s growing bounty of 2,650 confirmed planets.

The Kepler space telescope, which is now 94 million miles away from Earth, has survived many potential knock-outs during its nine years in flight, from mechanical failures to being blasted by cosmic rays.

planet-hunting Kepler space telescope
planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. Flickr

The spacecraft was given a new lease on life by using the pressure of sunlight to maintain its pointing, like a kayak steering into the current.

Reborn as “K2,” this extended mission requires the spacecraft to shift its field of view to new portions of the sky roughly every three months in what scientists refer to as a “campaign.”

Initially, the Kepler team estimated that the K2 mission could conduct 10 campaigns with the remaining fuel.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate. 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.

NASA in April launched another planet-hunting spacecraft, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess).

Also read: NASA’s Kepler Discovers Nearly 100 New Exoplanets

After the Kepler space telescope, Tess is the second spacecraft which will search for planets outside our solar system, including those that could support life. (IANS)

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NASA On The Outlook To Find The Name Of Its New Mars Rover

Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July or August 2020 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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TESS, rover
NASA Curiosity rover completes 6 years on Mars. Pixabay

NASA is on the look out for a partner to conduct a contest among students to name the agency’s next rover to the Red Planet — the Mars 2020 mission — in the 2019 academic year.

The Mars 2020 rover mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars, including key questions about the potential for life on the Red Planet.

Corporations, nonprofits and educational organisations interested in sponsoring the contest can send proposals to NASA.

Rover
The selected partner will have an opportunity to be part of a historic mission, NASA said. IANS

To be considered, all proposals must be received by October 9, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

“We’ve been doing naming contests since the very first Mars rover back in 1997,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington.

“Thousands of kids participate, and their enthusiasm for the contest and Mars is infectious,” Zurbuchen said.

TESS, rover
An artist’s concept provided by NASA shows the Keplar Spacecraft moving through space. VOA

The selected partner will have an opportunity to be part of a historic mission, NASA said.

Also Read: Balloon Mission by NASA May Lead to Improved Weather Forecasting

Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July or August 2020 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (IANS)