NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has run out of fuel and will be retired, following a nine-and-a-half-year mission in search of planets that might harbour life beyond our solar system.
Mission engineers are preparing to turn off the spacecraft’s radio transmitters, leaving it to forever orbit around the Sun.
Currently orbiting some 156 million kilometres from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet after its retirement, the US space agency said.
NASA launched the Kepler telescope on March 6, 2009, to learn if Earth-like planets that might harbour life are common or rare in other star systems.
The telescope’s findings indicate that distant star systems are populated with billions of planets, and it even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system.
Its positioning system broke down in 2013, though scientists found a way to keep it operational.
But the telescope has now run out of the fuel needed for further operations.
What will happen to the @NASAKepler space telescope? The spacecraft will remain forever in orbit around the Sun, periodically passing Earth but never coming closer than a million miles to our planet. Watch and learn more: https://t.co/CDV5EZJmqJ pic.twitter.com/I61zajLsxa
— NASA Kepler and K2 (@NASAKepler) October 30, 2018
“While this may be a sad event, we are by no means unhappy with the performance of this marvellous machine,” NASA project system engineer Charlie Sobeck said.
Kepler’s nine-and-a-half-year flight was more than twice as long as originally planned.
- Telescope no longer has enough fuel to carry out more missions
- The spacecraft will forever orbit the Sun after being decommissioned
- Kepler found 2,681 planets beyond our solar system, 50 which may be similar to Earth