The Kepler spacecraft has been confirmed to be in Emergency Mode since Thursday, said mission operations engineers at NASA. Taking into account that Emergency Mode (EM) is considered the lowest operational level for a spacecraft, it’s imperative for NASA’s engineers to solve the problem as soon as possible.
What’s more, the EM takes a high fuel toll on the spacecraft, which would compromise Kepler’s mission to explore space looking for new planets. Nevertheless, communication with the Kepler spacecraft it’s not as easy as it sounds, considering each transmission takes up to 13 minutes for it to travel to the spacecraft and back to Earth.
The NASA has announced that its main priority for the Kepler’s EM is to recover the spacecraft from the urgent situation as quickly as possible. Kepler’s mission has now required priority access to a better communication system that allows engineers to contact the spacecraft without wasting more time. NASA’s Deep Space Network has allowed engineers involved in Kepler’s mission priority access to its ground-base communications.
Still, the spacecraft was working up to its capacity as soon as April 4, yet no further details have been released so far. The Kepler spacecraft, which has already detected about 5,000 exoplanets apparently entered in Emergency Mode almost two days ago. As the spacecraft was set to begin maneuvers to get in line with the center of the Milky Way, the spacecraft began to malfunction and then entered in EM, about 36 hours ago, said engineers at NASA.
Kepler’s mission compromised
Kepler’s main mission is to look for Earth-like planets beyond Earth’s Solar System, yet the Emergency Mode threatens to end the planned mission for Kepler as it consumes large amounts of fuel. Although it doesn’t make much sense to use more fuel if the spacecraft is in EM, engineers at NASA claim a spacecraft is very different to a car, for example.
Fuel is needed when in Emergency Mode in order to keep the spacecraft’s thrust through space to prevent Kepler from drifting away. Considering NASA’s spacecraft is currently 75 million miles away from Earth, getting back from EM is crucial for the mission.
Still, Kepler counts with top engineers currently working non-stop to figure out the way to fix the problem and send the spacecraft back to its main mission. The impact of the fuel intake could reduce the mission’s duration, or the mission’s possibility itself. Nevertheless, NASA has experience in solving Kepler’s problem as it once did on 2014 when the space agency was able to fix the spacecraft’s gyroscopic reaction wheels.