NASA’s Kepler Telescope nearly out of fuel, forced to nap

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Artist's concept of NASA's Kepler spacecraft.

For now, Kepler's team is concentrating on the downloading of data gathered during the spacecraft's most recent observation. Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel. The highest priority for Kepler's remaining fuel is to return the data back to Earth. The space agency has put the satellite into a form of hibernation until August 2, when there's time booked on the Deep Space Network-a global array of receivers for space missions-to download data from its 18th observational mission.

News Brief: NASA has hit the pause button on observations by its most prolific planet-hunting probe, the Kepler space telescope, so that it can download 51 days' worth science data without interruption. Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. They will then maneuver it into the proper orientation for transmimitting the data. The 19th observation campaign is scheduled to start on August 6, but before that on August 2, Kepler will be brought out of its low power mode.

NASA plans to provide an update on Kepler's status following the scheduled data download.

NASA made the move in an attempt to ensure that Kepler has enough fuel left to beam its latest data haul to its handlers early next month.

As engineers preserve the new data stored on the spacecraft, scientists are continuing to mine existing data already on the ground.

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.

Launched in 2009, Kepler has endured mechanical failures and other mishaps.

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. The spacecraft began its work a couple months later.

Kepler is named after Johannes Kepler, a 16th century German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise.While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration.

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