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The exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope is now dead
02 November 2018, 11:45 | Ross Houston
Research: NASA retires Kepler Space Telescope —
Mission scientists anxious that the spacecraft may have been irreparably rendered ineffective after the steering malfunction in 2012, though they eventually came up with an ingenious solution in 2013 using pressure generated by the sun's rays to compensate for a failed reaction wheel and aim it at observation targets.
Now that it has no fuel, the telescope can't correct its very specific orbit, so it is drifting farther and farther from our planet.
Its findings indicate that billions of distant star systems are teeming with planets - perhaps trillions in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Its positioning system broke down in 2013, about four years after its launch, though scientists found a way to keep it operational.
Kepler, the telescope, reached more than twice its initial target, accomplishing original mission goals and seizing unexpected opportunities to answer questions about our galaxy and the universe, according to Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center. Originally only created to operate for around three and a half years, the spacecraft ultimately spent over nine and a half years in operation. Kepler's demise was "not unexpected and this marks the end of spacecraft operations", said Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director at NASA, on a conference call with reporters.
The resurrected mission became known as K2 and yielded 350 confirmed exoplanets, or planets orbiting other stars, on top of what the telescope had already uncovered since its March 7, 2009, launch from Cape Canaveral.
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The ship was being overhauled on one of the world's biggest floating docks and was due to go back into service in 2021. We don't know exactly how many people were hurt or killed in the incident, but apparently, there were casualties.
And in may of the same year, "Kepler" really lucky - he was able to see the full cycle of the birth of a supernova: before, during, and after the explosion. NASA announced it would "retire" Kepler as a result. Water is considered a key ingredient for life.
TESS builds on Kepler's foundation with fresh batches of data in its search of planets orbiting some 200,000 of the brightest and nearest stars to the Earth. It has even spotted a number of planets, many of which could have life, that were dubbed "Earth 2.0"; showing that they are more common than scientists previously thought. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) system was built on the template of Kepler's success.
Kepler's data also provided a new way to assess whether a planet had a solid surface, like Earth and Mars, or is gaseous, like Jupiter and Saturn. The satellite is now on its 2-year mission worth $337 million. It also unveiled incredible super Earths: planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.
The new spacecraft will focus on nearby exoplanets, those in the range of 30 to 300 light-years away. It showed us rocky worlds the size of Earth that, like Earth, might harbor life.
However, later it turned out that Kepler-69c, more like Venus, and life on it, most likely, impossible. Several other exoplanet-hunting missions are expected to start in the future, including one using the James Webb Space Telescope, which will succeed both the Kepler and the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA says Kepler's mission may be over but its discoveries will be studied for years to come.
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