NASA's Kepler space telescope is low on fuel, and its condition is still being assessed. Credit: NASA.

NASA's Kepler space telescope is low on fuel, and its condition is still being assessed. Credit: NASA.

The Kepler spacecraft has gone into sleep mode after successfully downloading data from its latest observation campaign, known as Campaign 18. It is unclear how much fuel is still on board; NASA is looking into the health of the spacecraft and determining a full range of options and next steps.

In July, NASA’s Kepler team placed the spacecraft into a hibernation-like state after receiving an indication that its fuel tank was running very low, in preparation for downloading science data collected during the campaign. That was done successfully after the spacecraft was reawakened on Aug. 2.

Since May 12, Kepler has been on its 18th observation campaign, staring at a patch of sky towards the constellation of Cancer it previously studied in 2015. The data from this second look will provide astronomers with an opportunity to confirm previous exoplanet candidates and discover new ones. Returning the data back to Earth is the highest priority for the remaining fuel.

To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time. On August 2, the team commanded the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data.

NASA has been monitoring the Kepler spacecraft closely for signs of low fuel, and expects it to run out of fuel in the next few months.

As engineers preserve the new data stored on the spacecraft, scientists are continuing to mine existing data already on the ground. Among other findings, recently 24 new planet discoveries were made using data from the 10th observation campaign, adding to the spacecraft’s growing bounty of 2,650 confirmed planets.

NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages the Kepler mission and follow-up K2 mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Media contact:
Tiffany Blake
Ames Research Center, California’s Silicon Valley