NASA’s Exoplanet Sleuth –“Kepler Spacecraft In ‘Sleep Mode’ Prior to Beginning Campaign 19”

In a statement Aug. 24, NASA said the Kepler Spacecraft went into a fuel-conserving “sleep mode” after transmitting the data it collected from its previous observing campaign earlier in the month. The observing campaign was interrupted by the safe mode triggered by the low-fuel warning on July 2. “It is unclear how much fuel is still on board,” the agency said in its statement. “NASA is looking into the health of the spacecraft and determining a full range of options and next steps.”

Back in early August, NASA officials were optimistic that Kepler would be able to start its next round of observations, known as Campaign 19, despite the low fuel warnings. However, NASA did not start Campaign 19 as hoped: in an Aug. 9 statement the mission said the data from the previous session, Campaign 18, had been successfully transmitted back to Earth. “We are monitoring the spacecraft very closely and will provide more information when its status has been fully assessed.”

Kepler has been operating under an extended mission, known as K2, since 2014. Although the spacecraft remains in good health, the limiting factor on its life has been its supply of hydrazine fuel. When Kepler exhausts its remaining fuel, it will no longer be able to accurately point, effectively ending the mission. But, accurately measuring the amount of remaining hydrazine on the spacecraft is challenging, so project officials have been anticipating the mission’s end for several months, not sure exactly when the spacecraft would run out of fuel.



Because Kepler, in a heliocentric orbit trailing the Earth, doesn’t pose a reentry and collision hazard, the spacecraft can continue to operate until it completely exhausts its fuel. “We can leave it in whatever state we want so we hadn’t given it a lot of thought,” Charlie Sobeck, system engineer for Kepler, said in a NASA podcast earlier this year about planning for Kepler’s end of mission. “Now that we are here most of our thought is going in to, ‘How do we get the most final science off the spacecraft and down into the hands of scientists before it goes in to that final resting spot?’”

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Kepler Mission

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