NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has been on shaky ground for some time now. Originally launched in 2009 for a three-and-a-half year mission, the spacecraft has been given numerous lifelines but is now on its last legs, with its fuel stocks dwindling and its telescope degrading. Mission scientists have placed Kepler into sleep mode in hopes of salvaging what might be its last cache of data, though there are no guarantees.
Kepler has been an instrument of huge scientific significance, spotting more than 2,600 exoplanets since launch, around 30 of those orbiting their parent stars in the habitable zone. Last month mission scientists awoke Kepler from hibernation mode for its 19th observation campaign, though noted that the telescope's pointing performance was showing signs of trouble.
Now the data has confirmed that the telescope is no longer able to point precisely, so mission scientists have placed it into sleep mode (where it uses no fuel). On October 10, they will awaken Kepler again and try to point its large antenna back to Earth to send its latest science data home.
Campaign 19 took place over 27 days, during which Kepler observed more than 30,000 stars and galaxies in the Aquarius constellation, with dozens of known and suspected exoplanets among them including the Trappist-1 system. But because there is no way of telling how much fuel Kepler has left, there is no way of knowing whether it will be successful in relaying its latest observation data back to Earth.
If it is, the team will keep it running in hope of completing campaign 20.
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