Building and launching a space craft can appear like a very daunting task, primarily because of the huge amounts of money it takes. So it’s only natural that people all over the world became very concerned when few days ago, the recently repaired Kepler telescope suffered an unknown malfunction.
Four days ago, the space craft entered emergency mode with no warning whatsoever, leaving NASA with virtually no way of contacting it or finding out what happened. Even though the agency has been struggling ever since to figure out what went wrong, they couldn’t determine a single thing. And after being almost completely dormant, Kepler finally went back online three days after failure.
Still a mystery, even to the rocket scientists from NASA, is exactly what happened to the spacecraft in the first place. It simply went into emergency mode all of a sudden, remained like that for three days, and just as suddenly came back to life. It’s not any protocol built into the telescope by the engineers behind it, so they have no idea what went on.
Plus, with the Kepler being as far out into space as it is, it still takes time for the information to travel to ground command and then back to the space craft. It might not be much, but the 13 minutes of lag between sending and receiving information could very well mean the difference between a successful and a failed mission.
According to NASA spokespeople, emergency mode is the lowest operational mode the spacecraft can run in, and it consumes a lot of fuel. Right now, the Kepler is operating on it best fuel-saving mode, so as to be able to complete its mission in space without having to abandon the very expensive piece of technology up there.
Scientists have been running diagnostics and analyzing data sent back to Earth ever since they regained contact with the space craft. The process is, expectedly, very lengthy, with the team estimating that it will last at least until the end of the week. Hopefully, the check-up will come up a-ok.
If the K2, as the space craft is also called, gets a clean bill of health, it will be able to start its new mission soon enough. Dubbed Campaign 9, the mission will be aimed at detecting smaller planets orbiting their stars at very wide rotations, or not orbiting any stars at all. This is how NASA describes Campaign 9:
In this campaign, both K2 and astronomers at ground-based observatories on five continents will simultaneously monitor the same region of sky towards the center of our galaxy to search for small planets, such as the size of Earth, orbiting very far from their host star or, in some cases, orbiting no star at all.
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