The Kepler mission team recently received an indication that the spacecraft is running very low on fuel. If enough fuel remains after the August 2 phone call home, campaign 19 will begin on August 6, NASA officials said.
But that long service is about to end, as NASA said today the craft is running out of fuel.
This artist's illustration published by NASA on December 14, 2014, shows the Kepler Space Telescope. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel.
Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign since May 12 collecting data from the part of the sky towards the constellation of Cancer that it earlier studied in 2015. The second-look data will allow astronomers to verify or rule out exoplanet candidates found earlier and identify new candidates in the process. An academic paper released on June 29 added 44 more validated planets to the mission's total using data from the 10th observation campaign of the K2 phase conducted in 2016.
On August 2, the Kepler team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and manoeuvre the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data. Until this time, Kepler will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode.
Launched in 2009, Kepler has endured mechanical failures and other mishaps.
During its mission, the Kepler suffered multiple issues.
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. 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. So far, it has provided data that scientists have used to confirm the existence of 2,650 exoplanets in a field of over 150,000 stars that it's examining.
Researchers expect to find more exoplanet discoveries from Kepler's data, as it can take years to analyze information from the spacecraft's instruments. The mission has already completed 17 campaigns, and since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign.
As it turns out, Kepler has discovered that our solar system is unique compared to others, which have included blazing-hot gas giants in perilous proximity to their host stars, binary star systems, and red dwarfs orbited by numerous rocky worlds.