Scientists have resumed communications with NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope after the exoplanet hunter entered an Emergency Mode for the first time in its 7-year history. Mission scientists checked in with the spacecraft on Thursday, April 7, and found that Kepler’s onboard system had dropped into a low-power state sometime between Monday and Thursday. This automatically happens when spacecraft’s fail-safes are triggered so the spaceship can prevent further damage.
NASA informed that Kepler began its emergency mode about 14 hours before scientists attempted a planned maneuver to turn the spacecraft toward the center of the Milky Way for Campaign 9, which is aimed at seeking out orphan planets or worlds that have been separated from their parent star.
“On Sunday morning, the spacecraft reached a stable state with the communication antenna pointed toward Earth, enabling telemetry and historical event data to be downloaded to the ground,” Charlie Sobeck, Kepler and K2 mission manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a statement.
He affirmed that the spacecraft was still operating in its lowest fuel burn mode.
He added that mission scientists are conducting an investigation to find out what happened and that they are focused on returning Kepler, which is 75 million miles away, to science mode.
Once data is on Earth-based observatories, experts will check on all onboard systems to make sure that Kepler is ready to return to science operations and begin Campaign 9, NASA explained on Monday. Sobeck said that the K2 observing for Campaign 9 would end on July 1, when the core of the Milky Way will no longer be in view from Kepler’s point in space.
Not the first time the exoplanet hunter suffers some failures
The space agency launched Kepler in 2009 and the spacecraft has since detected nearly 5,000 exoplanets or planets outside our solar system. To date, NASA has confirmed more than 1,000.
Kepler suffered failures in 2013 when two of its four gyroscopes stopped working. The space telescope needed at least 3 of its gyroscopes to be in operation in order to maintain its position steadily focused on the same region of the space. When its second stopped functioning, scientists involved in the original mission decided to start a new phase of planet hunting by using solar wind pressure along with the two gyroscopes in operation. Kepler’s new phase was named K2.
Source: Discovery News