Kepler/K2 Mission Coming to an End

As Kepler/K2 runs low on critical hydrazine fuel, NASA has put Kepler spacecraft in safe mode until August 2 2018

Published on 11th Jul, 2018

Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News. Well, yesterday I told you the good news: NASA’s Juno Mission was extended until 2022 to keep looking at Jupiter. Today, some sad news: NASA has put the Kepler Space Telescope, also known as K2 into safe mode because it is running out of fuel. The last days of the incredible Kepler mission are here. Last week, on July 6th, NASA announced that, after seeing an alarming drop in fuel pressure, it had put the Kepler Space Telescope into a “no-fuel-use safe mode” on July 2nd so that it could preserve the 51 days of observations it has stored onboard that it had collected during it’s 18th campaign. The spacecraft will remain in that safe mode until Aug. 2 to make sure they have enough fuel for a previously scheduled downlink of all those observations through the Deep Space Network. At that time, after the data dump, engineers will try to figure out how much fuel is left onboard to see if they can continue observations. Figuring that out won’t be easy because there is’t a gas gauge on Kepler, they will use fuel pressure readings to try to determine how much they have left and try to estimate how long it will last. The limiting factor for the Kepler mission has always been the finite amount of hydrazine fuel in the tanks and engineers expected that Kepler would use up its remaining fuel some time this year but weren’t sure exactly when given the uncertainties in measuring the fuel on board. When it’s gone, that’s it for Kepler, no more observations. I mean, Kepler could still keep taking observations by storing images from where ever it was looking, but it would not be able to point it’s dish back to Earth to transmit that data back. The rotation to Earth was always one of the most expensive uses of the fuel onboard and it would no longer be able to do that, even though it may have a hard drive full of data. So on August 2nd Engineers will point Kepler back to Earth to get the last trove of onboard data transmitted back to Earth and then find out if there’s enough to continue with Campaign 19, which was scheduled to begin on August 6th. One campaign for K2 lasts 80 days while the spacecraft stares at one area of the sky as it travels around the Sun. K2 is a highly accurate photometric telescope that was initially used to stare at over 160,000 stars in the constellation Cygnus looking for tiny dips in brightness as Earth-sized planets passed between the telescope and the host star. The results from that mission were spectacular with Kepler discovering over twenty three hundred exoplanets currently confirmed and a couple thousand more candidates waiting confirmation. It’s primary mission ended in May 2013 and was reborn as K2 in 2014 and it’s been running flawlessly ever since doing all kinds of great science that it wasn’t originally designed to do. In fact, the spacecraft itself is in great shape. Well, except for those two pesky reaction wheels. But now K2 is running on fumes, it’s up against a hard limit and unless somebody can get some hydrazine up there, it’s mission will end sometime very soon. We’ll find out in August if campaign 19 is a go and of course, I’ll keep you posted. Well, that’s it for this episode Space Fans. Thanks to all Deep Astronomy Patreon Patrons who support these videos. Now that YouTube has taken to flagging almost everything I post, you guys are my sole lifeline so thank you. Thanks to all of you for watching and as always, Keep Looking Up! Oh and go England. Don’t you worry, it’s coming home. Consider supporting Space Fan News: to ensure you get current space & astronomy news each week! Space Fan News Theme by Stephen Dubois available for download here: Space Fan News Background Music by Colour the Landscapes: Follow DeepAstronomy on Twitter: @DeepAstronomy