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Kepler Telescope Declared Dead After Running Low On Fuel For Months: NASA

Kepler should remain in a safe, stable orbit around the sun.

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This illustration made available by NASA shows the Kepler Space Telescope. As of October 2018, the planet-hunting spacecraft has been in space for nearly a decade. VOA

NASA’s elite planet-hunting spacecraft has been declared dead, just a few months shy of its 10th anniversary.

Officials announced the Kepler Space Telescope’s demise Tuesday.

Already well past its expected lifetime, the 9½-year-old Kepler had been running low on fuel for months. Its ability to point at distant stars and identify possible alien worlds worsened dramatically at the beginning of October, but flight controllers still managed to retrieve its latest observations. The telescope has now gone silent, its fuel tank empty.

“Kepler opened the gate for mankind’s exploration of the cosmos,” said retired NASA scientist William Borucki, who led the original Kepler science team.

Kepler, NASA
An artist’s composite of the Kepler telescope is seen in this undated NASA handout image. Two of Kepler’s four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, failed in 2013, but engineers salvaged the telescope and it continued to peer into the cosmos for several more years. VOA

Super Earths found

Kepler discovered 2,681 planets outside our solar system and even more potential candidates. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbor life. It also unveiled incredible super Earths: planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz estimated that anywhere from two to a dozen of the planets discovered by Kepler are rocky and Earth-sized in the so-called Goldilocks zone — the habitable area around a star where the temperature would permit existence of liquid water. But Kepler’s overall planet census showed that 20 percent to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky could have planets like ours in such a habitable zone for life, he said.

The $700 million mission even helped to uncover last year a solar system with eight planets, just like ours.

“It has revolutionized our understanding of our place in the cosmos,” Hertz said. “Now we know because of the Kepler Space Telescope and its science mission that planets are more common than stars in our galaxy.”

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

Almost lost in 2013 because of equipment failure, Kepler was salvaged by engineers and kept peering into the cosmos, thick with stars and galaxies, ever on the lookout for dips in in the brightness of stars that could indicate an orbiting planet.

“It was like trying to detect a flea crawling across a car headlight when the car was 100 miles away,” said Borucki said.

The resurrected mission became known as K2 and yielded 350 confirmed exoplanets, or planets orbiting other stars, on top of what the telescope had already uncovered since its March 7, 2009, launch from Cape Canaveral.

In all, close to 4,000 exoplanets have been confirmed over the past two decades, two-thirds of them thanks to Kepler.

Kepler focused on stars thousands of light-years away and, according to NASA, showed that statistically there’s at least one planet around every star in our Milky Way galaxy.

TESS, rover, NASA, mercuryKeplar, NASA
TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters on March 28, 2018. NASA sent TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. VOA

Borucki, who dreamed up the mission decades ago, said one of his favorite discoveries was Kepler 22b, a water planet bigger than Earth but in an area where it is not too warm and not too cold — the type “that could lead to life.”

Successor spacecraft

A successor to Kepler launched in April, NASA’s Tess spacecraft, has its sights on stars closer to home. It’s already identified some possible planets.

Tess project scientist Padi Boyd called Kepler’s mission “stunningly successful.”

Kepler showed us that “we live in a galaxy that’s teeming with planets, and we’re ready to take the next step to explore those planets,” she said.

Another longtime spacecraft chasing strange worlds in our own solar system, meanwhile, is also close to death.

NASA’s 11-year-old Dawn spacecraft is pretty much out of fuel after orbiting the asteroid Vesta as well as the dwarf planet Ceres. It remains in orbit around Ceres, which, like Vesta, is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar
The telescope has now gone silent, its fuel tank empty.Flickr

Two of NASA’s older telescopes have been hit with equipment trouble recently, but have recovered. The 28-year-old Hubble Space Telescope resumed science observations last weekend, following a three-week shutdown. The 19-year-old Chandra X-ray Telescope’s pointing system also ran into trouble briefly in October. Both cases involved critical gyroscopes, needed to point the telescopes.

Also Read: Parker Solar Probe Sets Record For Getting Closest To The Sun: NASA

Hertz said all the spacecraft problems were “completely independent” and coincidental in timing.

Now 94 million miles from Earth, Kepler should remain in a safe, stable orbit around the sun. Flight controllers will disable the spacecraft’s transmitters, before bidding it a final “goodnight.” (VOA)

Next Story

This NASA-ISRO Mission Set to Crunch Key Space Data in Cloud

"Interest in space helps everybody. And there's a lot of commercial interest now. I think if there is a business to be made, commercial space will do that. When there is no business to be made that no one can make money, then the government should do that

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FILE - Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 14, 2010. VOA

By NISHANT ARORA

As the humankind aims for deeper space missions like Mars in couple of years from now, the time is to democratize humongous data available via NASA and space agencies like the Indian Space Research organization (ISRO) that can boost space research via next-gen Cloud computing, a top NASA-JPL official has stressed.

Scheduled for launch from Sriharikota launch facility in Andhra Pradesh in 2022, the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is a joint project between the US and Indian space agencies to co-develop and launch a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar on an Earth observation satellite. The satellite will be the first radar imaging one to use dual frequencies (L and S Band).

ISRO is likely to spend Rs 788 crore while JPL’s work share is expected to be over $800 million on this key project.

Using advanced radar imaging that will provide an unprecedented, detailed view of Earth, NISAR satellite is designed to observe and take measurements of some of the planet’s most complex processes — ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse and natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-driven Cloud computing is certainly going to make the key difference once the satellite is up and running.

“NISAR is going to generate 100 terabytes per day. That’s a lot of data. It’s about a hundred times more than anything we’ve ever done together. It doesn’t fit in our data centres. So we have to put it in the Cloud,” Tom Soderstrom, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), told IANS during an interaction here.

“The data needs to be worked on for the Indian space agency with several others including NASA. Having it in the Cloud gives us a good place to store, analyse and parse it right for the benefit of humankind,” Soderstrom added.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a federally-funded research and development center in Pasadena, California.

“For our science data processing part, we discovered that we could use GPUs (graphic processing units) which were never done before. So, for NISAR, we tried GPUs and realized that it’s better, sometimes 100 times better, based on what you’re doing and overall four times faster,” Soderstrom explained.

ISRO
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Sivan, left, and Junior Indian Minister for Department of Atomic Energy and Space Jitendra Singh address a news conference in New Delhi. VOA

The data collected from NISAR mission will reveal information about the evolution and state of Earth’s crust, help scientists better understand our planet’s processes and changing climate, and aid future resource and hazard management.

According to Soderstrom, now they can not only process data much faster but also switch between CPUs and GPUs, whichever is the cheapest.

“Cloud will help us process the data differently. Now, you have lots of interesting data for different spacecrafts. We can now apply machine learning to see trends — both in the science and telemetry data,” said the NASA-JPL executive.

At JPL, everyone has intelligent digital assistant Alexa at his or her desk, helping the staffers organise daily tasks while making sense of intrinsic data-sets.

“An intelligent digital assistant has two pieces to it. It knows who I am and also knows how long I’ve been there, meaning it knows my role. So it can tell me things that I need to know before I even know I need them. You can ask Alexa simple things like when is NISAR launching or how much data it is producing on a daily basis, or where my source data is coming from,” Soderstrom explained.

Alexa can tell you about the mission’s budget. It can tell you about the compute environment and “we can speak to it, type to it or text to it. We apply machine learning to make Alexa smarter and smarter over time”.

Also Read: Being a Part of UNICEF as Goodwill Ambassador is a Lifetime Privilege, Says Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Soderstrom is also bullish on space collaborations between countries to create a better world.

“Interest in space helps everybody. And there’s a lot of commercial interest now. I think if there is a business to be made, commercial space will do that. When there is no business to be made that no one can make money, then the government should do that.

“If space becomes the business, then let the business people do it like Elon Musk began by transporting things to the International Space Station (ISS). JPL, on the other hand, wants to go and do things that have never been done before. So if people can go to the moon and mine it, so be it. Once Mars becomes commonplace, we’re going to Jupiter’s moon Europa in search of life,” elaborated Soderstrom. (IANS)