Kepler Wakes Up Again, Starts New Science Campaign

NASA's planet finder went into sleep mode right after it finished downloading all the data from its previous campaign.

Kepler Campaign 19
Vadim Sadovski / Shutterstock

NASA's planet finder went into sleep mode right after it finished downloading all the data from its previous campaign.

The Kepler Space Telescope is once again ready to embark on a new observation campaign, the 19th to be conducted during its current mission, reports Space.

The planet-finding telescope has recently woken up from yet another programmed slumber and is already scouring the skies in search for new exoplanets. According to NASA, Kepler began collecting data for Campaign 19 on August 29, after the veteran telescope took a short break from work to save up on fuel.

As the Inquisitr recently reported, NASA’s planet seeker was placed in a sort of “nap mode” in early July, due to concerns that its dwindling fuel reserves wouldn’t last long enough for the telescope to beam back the data gathered during Campaign 18.

After napping for four weeks, Kepler woke up on August 2 and started downloading its data to Earth soon after that — a process that was successfully completed on August 9, notes NASA’s Kepler & K2 Science Center.

The Campaign 18 data is currently available online on the telescope’s archive at MAST.

Once the data was safely transmitted back to Earth, Kepler went back to sleep, NASA announced in an August 24 update, and woke up again a few days later, ready to get its science on.

Yet the future of the veteran space telescope, which first launched in 2009, remains uncertain, notes CNET.

Although Kepler is now awake and back on duty, NASA’s expert planet finder experienced a small headache with one of its thrusters during its latest nap and might be facing some issues with its superprecise pointing ability.

“After being roused from sleep mode the spacecraft’s configuration has been modified due to unusual behavior exhibited by one of the thrusters. Preliminary indications are that the telescope’s pointing performance may be somewhat degraded,” space agency officials stated in a September 5 update.

But the space telescope’s major problem stems from its nearly depleted fuel stores. Kepler has been running low on fuel for quite a while, which is why the July time-out was specifically designed to stop the spacecraft from using any fuel until the Campaign 18 data download, the Inquisitr reported at the time.

“It remains unclear how much fuel remains,” reads the latest mission update, adding that “NASA continues to monitor the health and performance of the spacecraft.”

 NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.
Artist’s rendition of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. NASA

To date, Kepler has tracked down an impressive 2,652 exoplanets, with 325 of those discovered during its second mission, K2. Kick-started in 2014 after engineers figured out a way to fix a malfunction that halted the telescope’s original mission, K2 is organized in a series of observational campaigns, each one scheduled to last around 80 days.

However, the previous Kepler campaign only lasted for 51 days and was cut short on July 2, when the telescope paused science operations to go into nap mode.

Meanwhile, during Kepler’s month-long slumber, NASA officially began scouring the skies with its new-generation TESS exoplanet seeker, the Inquisitr previously reported.

While there’s no knowing how long Kepler can keep on doing what it does best, the telescope will keep astronomers busy long after its watch has ended. More than 2,700 exoplanet candidates identified by the venerable spacecraft still await to be verified and are bound to add to the total tally of the Kepler legacy.