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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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Kepler, NASA, tissue
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.

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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

Partial Shutdown of US Delays Space Missions, But NASA Not Grounded

Other active space missions includes NASA probes OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons spacecraft that continue to gather data in Earth orbit and the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond, the report said

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People rally to call for an end to the partial government shutdown in Detroit, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

The partial shutdown of the US federal government has had a serious impact on the country’s space agency NASA and development work on most future space missions has been slowed or suspended.

However, NASA has not been totally grounded by the partial government shutdown that began on December 22, after last-minute negotiations in Congress failed to end a budget standoff.

Over 95 per cent of the space agency’s employees have been furloughed. As a result, various research projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope has been put on hold, the Space.com reported on Wednesday.

Hubble suffered a mechanical problem that only furloughed NASA employees could repair.

Many workers also gathered outside the Johnson Space Center in Houston to protest the shutdown and its deleterious effects on their lives and the nation’s space programmes.

The Telescope facilities that have so far remained open during the shutdown will soon run out of money and cease operations.

This includes the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), a federally funded organization that operates the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the Green Bank Telescope and the Very Large Array (VLA), the report noted.

The partial shutdown become the longest on record after January 12, overtaking the previous record of the 21-day impasse in 1995-96 under then President Bill Clinton.

NASA, tissue
US shutdown delays space missions but NASA not grounded: Report,

President Donald Trump and the Congress have been at loggerheads over his demand to include in the budget $5.7 billion funding for building a border wall along the Mexico border. Democratic leaders have rejected his call.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), also called the “flying telescope” has also ceased operations since the shutdown.

The telescope, which is mounted to the fuselage of a Boeing 747 aircraft, has not flown since the shutdown began, the report said.

However, despite the shutdown some “excepted” employees remained at work, assisting astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and other space missions, the report said.

Also Read- National Clean Air Programme Should Set Higher Targets

Last week, astronauts aboard the ISS conducted a range of scientific experiments and public-outreach work. They engaged in an orbital Q&A with school kids and answered a variety of questions, from the nature of the research performed aboard the ISS to the type of training astronauts receive to whether your ears pop in space.

On January 13, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule departed the orbiting lab for Earth, eventually splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The robotic Dragon brought down important scientific research and hardware for examination here on terra firma.

Other active space missions includes NASA probes OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons spacecraft that continue to gather data in Earth orbit and the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and beyond, the report said.  (IANS)