NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Had A Close Call This Weekend

NASA’s Kepler Spacecraft Had A Close Call This Weekend
Sun Over Earth (NASA, International Space Station Science, 11:22:09) NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr CC BY 2.0

After the planet hunting probe, NASA’s Kepler space telescope, entered emergency mode 75 million miles away from Earth, the space agency’s engineers were able to revive the spacecraft.


The spacecraft was discovered to be in distress during a scheduled contact on Thursday. While in emergency mode, the Kepler burns more fuel required to keep its thrusters ignited and help orient the spacecraft to enable it to check in with the team on Earth, ABC News reports.

In an online update confirming that the spacecraft was stabilized, Kepler mission manager Charlie Sobeck said, “On Sunday morning, the spacecraft reached a stable state with the communication antenna pointed toward Earth, enabling telemetry and historical event data to be downloaded to the ground. The spacecraft is operating in its lowest fuel-burn mode.”

At a distance of 75 million miles away, it is immensely difficult to fix Kepler’s issues. Communication between the team and the spacecraft is significantly delayed as its signals don’t reach the team on Earth instantaneously. According to NASA, “Even at the speed of light, it takes 13 minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.”

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The primary mission of the spacecraft, launched in 2009, was completed in 2012. The Kepler has encountered multiple breakdowns, (including when two reaction wheels needed to orient the spacecraft malfunctioned in 2013). But it has since kept going on an extended mission dubbed K2, FOX News reports.

NASA said that the spacecraft slipped into emergency mode around 14 hours before it was going to be oriented to the center of the Milky Way. Through this, the spacecraft endeavored to detect distant planetary bodies.

“The team has therefore ruled out the maneuver and the reaction wheels as possible causes of the EM event,” Sobeck said. “An investigation into what caused the event will be pursued in parallel, with a priority on returning the spacecraft to science operations.”

The space agency said last year that a planet and star similar to the Earth and the sun had been located. Dubbed Kepler 452b, the planet is believed to be 6 million years old. The star, called Kepler 452, has a diameter 10 percent larger than the sun but has the same temperature.

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