NASA revealed that Kepler Spacecraft has entered into emergency mode, and the mission operations engineers have been given the priority access to ground-based communication on NASA’s Deep Space Network. It appears that the main reason behind Kepler’s troublesome situation is the current distance of the spacecraft, which is affecting the smooth communication process.
Several reports have emerged stating that such fast consumption of the power supply due to the emergency mode has brought the NASA engineers on to their toes and the world is worried for its favourite space telescope! Mission control engineers for NASA’s Deep Space Network in California now have a tight deadline to save the $600 million spaceship.
CS Monitor reported that “The NASA team is working on recovering from the emergency mode, as it consumes a significant amount of fuel. Since the spacecraft is 75 million miles away from Earth, even with the speed of light, communication takes about 13 minutes for the message to travel from the spacecraft and back.”
The Kepler spacecraft was working in excellent condition until April 4, after which it entered the lowest operational mode, reported the Science World Report.
The Verge reported that NASA’s Kepler spacecraft was launched in 2009 with a primary mission to look for planets outside the Solar System. The mission was completed in 2012 and detected about 5,000 exoplanets and its next top mission was K2, launched in 2014. It is reported that the mission was continued using the sun’s radiation pressure in order to position the spacecraft.
Earlier, there were reports that in July 2012, one of the gyroscopic reaction wheels of the Kepler spacecraft failed. A similar incident occurred in 2013 when the second wheel failed.
According to NASA’s Mission Manager, Charles Sobeck Update:
Mission Manager Update: Kepler Spacecraft in Emergency Mode
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.
Sources: Weekly Observer and NASA