NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Downloads Science Data before beginning next campaign

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Launched in 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope's mission was to search the galaxy for exoplanets.

The fuel situation doesn't come as a big surprise; NASA announced in March that Kepler was running low and would likely have to cease operations in a matter of months.

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

Don't miss out on the latest news and information. "On Aug. 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data".

NASA is unable to determine the exact amount of fuel that remained in Kepler, since the telescope has no onboard gas sensor.

Transmitting back these data requires the spacecraft to point its large antenna back to Earth during the allotted Deep Space Network time set in early August. Once the data is downloaded, the team expects to begin a new observation campaign with the spacecraft's remaining fuel. It will remain asleep until early August, when controllers attempt to send down the data collected before observations were interrupted.

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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.

This artist's concept illustrates the two Saturn-sized planets discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. Researchers repurposed the spacecraft by changing its field of view and named this extended mission K2.

The Kepler Space Telescope has been in a heliocentric orbit around Earth since 2009. "Interestingly, Kepler used the pressure of the sun to maintain its gaze, 'like a kayak steering into the current", says Sobeck, reports the UK's Daily Mail.

It turns out scientists were overly conservative in their estimate. This is a part of Kepler's "K2" mission started in 2014.

But scientists now know that its life is coming to end very soon.

After spending nearly a decade in space, NASA's Kepler spacecraft is nearing the end of its journey. The $600 million Kepler mission finds alien worlds using the "transit method", picking up on tiny brightness dips caused when orbiting planets cross a star's face - as seen from Kepler's perspective.

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