In a press release on 14th March 2018, NASA issued an official statement on the now short future of the great Kepler Spacecraft Observatory.
soon, we are prepared to continue as long as the fuel allows”
The glorious Kepler & K2 is due to run out of fuel in the next few months which will mark the end of what has been an incredible era in the dawn of exoplanet hunting, but this is only the beginning of our hunt for alien worlds.
“The Kepler team is planning to collect as much science data as possible in its remaining time and beam it back to Earth before the loss of the fuel-powered thrusters means that we can't aim the spacecraft for data transfer. We even have plans to take some final calibration data with the last bit of fuel, if the opportunity presents itself.”
To date, Kepler has discovered 5373 exoplanets candidates, 2649 have been confirmed and 30 have been confirmed as less than twice Earth-size. Although the team still have mountains of data to analyze so we will no doubt still be discovering more exoplanets long after Kepler has drifted off into deep space in total silence.
NASA expects the fuel to last a few months, several at best before we can no longer receive data from the craft.
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. 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 we 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 we were overly conservative. The mission has already completed 16 campaigns, and this month entered its 17th.”
Whilst it will be a very sad time to say goodbye to the incredible Kepler craft, NASA will be launching Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) on April 16 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. TESS will search nearly the entire sky for planets outside our solar system, focusing on the brightest stars less than 300 light-years away, and adding to Kepler’s treasure trove of planet discoveries.
VISIT NASA: Learn more about Kepler & the K2 Mission