It's a race against time to save one of the most important telescopes in human history.
The Kepler space telescope is in major trouble.
NASA is trying to regain contact with the telescope, which is charged with searching for planets outside our solar system and is responsible for detcting nearly 5,000 planets, according to a NASA statement.
The Kepler spacecraft slipped into emergency mode sometime last week, and was last heard from on April 4. The spacecraft had shown no signs that anything was wrong at that time.
However, ground controllers noticed a problem when they tried to point Kepler to the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Mission manager Charlie Sobeck said that during scheduled contact on April 7, engineers found out that the spacecraft had entered emergeny mode, which is fuel intensive and creates the risk of the spacecraft running out of fuel.
It’s tough to make contact with the spacecraft as it is 75 million miles from Earth. Its current mission is to search for exoplanets while studying stars and supernovae as well.
The NASA statement is below:
During a scheduled contact on Thursday, April 7, mission operations engineers discovered that the Kepler spacecraft was in Emergency Mode (EM). EM is the lowest operational mode and is fuel intensive. Recovering from EM is the team’s priority at this time.
The mission has declared a spacecraft emergency, which provides priority access to ground-based communications at the agency’s Deep Space Network.
Initial indications are that Kepler entered EM approximately 36 hours ago, before mission operations began the maneuver to orient the spacecraft to point toward the center of the Milky Way for the K2 mission’s microlensing observing campaign.
The spacecraft is nearly 75 million miles from Earth, making the communication slow. Even at the speed of light, it takes 13 minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.
The last regular contact with the spacecraft was on April. 4. The spacecraft was in good health and operating as expected.
Kepler completed its prime mission in 2012, detecting nearly 5,000 exoplanets, of which, more than 1,000 have been confirmed. In 2014 the Kepler spacecraft began a new mission called K2. In this extended mission, K2 continues the search for exoplanets while introducing new research opportunities to study young stars, supernovae, and many other astronomical objects.
Updates will be provided as additional information is available.