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NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler telescope wakes up once again to begin probing the depths of space

Published Sep 6th, 2018 2:49PM EDT
kepler telescope
Image: NASA

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All eyes these days may be on NASA’s shiny new exoplanet hunter TESS, but the group’s Kepler space telescope still has some life left in it. The aging spacecraft is one again up and running and, in a brief update to its mission log, NASA has announced that the telescope is back at work once more.

The Kepler spacecraft already has a full 18 missions under its belt, but NASA scientists are hoping that it still has enough power left to push forward. Unfortunately, the telescope is beginning to show its age, and might be somewhat hampered when maneuvering for its latest round of observations.

“The Kepler spacecraft began collecting science data on Aug. 29 for its 19th observation campaign,” NASA explains. “After being roused from sleep mode the spacecraft’s configuration has been modified due to unusual behavior exhibited by one of the thrusters. Preliminary indications are that the telescope’s pointing performance may be somewhat degraded. It remains unclear how much fuel remains; NASA continues to monitor the health and performance of the spacecraft.”

That might sound dire, but it’s somewhat expected. Kepler, which launched back in 2009, is approaching its tenth year in space. The spacecraft has a finite amount of fuel that it needs in order to maneuver and position its powerful lens at distant objects. Somewhat humorously, the spacecraft has no way of telling its handlers on the ground how much fuel it actually has left, so NASA just has to keep issuing commands until the craft poops out.

Kepler completed its previous science mission earlier this year and was placed into a hibernation state prior to booting back up to allow NASA to download the data it had retrieved. It woke in August, at which point it transferred its data to Earth, but then went back to sleep until August 29th when it woke to begin its latest round of observations.

With well over 2,000 exoplanets already discovered by Kepler, let’s hope the telescope keeps on going for a long time to come.