NASA famed Kepler K2 mission will soon go dry after it runs out of fuel in coming months. The spacecraft is over 94 million miles away from Earth scanning thousands of potential exoplanets each year. Launched back in 2009, the space telescope will cease to perform in just next few months as per anticipated as its fuel reserves are decreasing. Anyhow, scientists are ready to squeeze out more data from the less time the telescope has as well as they are ready to adjust their time in case if it is operated for months.
Kepler mission was launched by NASA in 2009 to search for exponents that are Earth-sized planets orbiting their host stars. It has successfully found 2,245 confirmed exoplanets while 2,342 more are awaiting confirmation. The mission has worked remarkably despite setbacks that came in the way, Kepler space telescope was able to overcome it and capture astronomical feat for which, it will be always remembered.
Back in 2013, Kepler lost fine-tuned mobility after second of the total four reaction wheel broke that limited its mobility. During the phase, the telescope was not able to focus on a particular target which made scientists anticipate its end of life, however, scientists were able to give a new life to the space telescope after it was programmed to use solar wind pressure that would make the spacecraft steady and focused on a particular target. Soon after, Kepler mission was renamed as Kepler K2 mission citing the new lease of life.
When propagating at a phenomenon speed and following the footstep of NASA’s Voyager 1 which has drifted away from Pluto, Kepler requires reposition every three months where it gazes at different targets every quarter year. This was later referred as campaign and the space telescope was originally destined to stay in operation for maximum 10 campaign before its fuel reserves dwindle, however, to its surprise, the mission is presently in its 17th campaign and running, collecting images and data of the distant object and transferring the data to the Earth via radio waves.
According to NASA, the spacecraft doesn’t have any gas gauge that could help the space agency to predict the remaining fuel and the estimates time when it will run out of it. The other way around to gauge if the reserves have ended or not is to check for thrusters if they are working or not and also, the pressure in the fuel tanks which are two signs of low fuel. At present, Kepler K2 mission is capturing photos of distant images and has greatly helped the scientists understand the cosmos and the exoplanets around our galaxy.
In its last months of operation, NASA will decide what to capture and where to study before it eventually stops working. NASA will eventually speed up the process to squeeze out more data in its last days. It is, however, unlikely to get a farewell similar to Cassini space probe which was plunged in the Saturn and crash to avoid contaminating Saturn’s moon which may possess life. Cassini made an outstanding job by sending the last images of Saturn up close before actually crashing and burning while entering the atmosphere. However, Kepler K2 mission will not be able to do the same since it is actually middle of the space.
Soon, Kepler K2 mission will end its operation and become one of the many spacecraft, probes, to live endlessly in the space, thus, leaving a void in space with no telescopes around to watch out for more potential exoplanets. Fortunately, NASA will be launching the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in April 2018. This massive space telescope is equipped with four wide-field cameras that will scan a larger region with over 200,000 stars nearby and in the vicinity for signs of exoplanets. Stay tuned to get insights on how and when Kepler K2 mission will cease to perform its maneuvering and data transfer after using up all the available fuel in next few months.