Kepler Suffers Unknown Technical Problem
UPDATE: Kepler Space Telescope Revived From Emergency Shutdown
Just as NASA's Kepler space telescope was to begin a unique survey of planets without parent stars, ground control teams discovered the observatory had put itself into emergency mode due to an unknown technical problem.
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The situation is a concern because the telescope is now burning through its limited supply of maneuvering fuel. That steering system is what enabled NASA to return Kepler to work even after two of its four gyroscopes, used to point and hold the telescope on a target, failed in 2013. The revised mission, called K2, began in 2014.
NASA's last regular contact with Kepler was on April 4.
"The spacecraft was in good health and operating as expected," mission manager Charlie Sobeck said in a statement.
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Sometime between then and Thursday, which was the next time Kepler was due to phone home, the telescope had put itself into emergency mode.
On Thursday, Kepler was scheduled to begin a new campaign to look for orphan planets, which are free-flying worlds that are not circling a host star. The telescope had not yet flipped itself around to begin the project, which was scheduled to last about three months.
"Recovering from EM (emergency mode) is the team's priority at this time," Sobeck said.