A Changing Of The Guard In NASA's Hunt For Exoplanets

Submitted by: trimble 3 weeks ago in News & Politics Science


The spacecraft is running out of the hydrazine fuel used by those thrusters to maintain the spacecraft’s orientation. Once the thrusters sputter and shut down, their fuel exhausted, Kepler will no longer be able to control its pointing, and the mission will end.

But as Kepler approaches the end of its life, NASA’s next mission to search for exoplanets is gearing up for launch. At an Orbital ATK facility near Washington Dulles International Airport, technicians are completing final tests on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a NASA mission scheduled for launch this spring.

An excerpt from Space News:

Sometime later this year NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, orbiting the sun more than 150 million kilometers from the Earth, will fire its thrusters for the final time. The spacecraft is running out of the hydrazine fuel used by those thrusters to maintain the spacecraft’s orientation. Once the thrusters sputter and shut down, their fuel exhausted, Kepler will no longer be able to control its pointing, and the mission will end.

The project isn’t quite sure exactly when that will happen, since the calculation depends on rates of fuel usage and the challenges of measuring just how much hydrazine is left in the spacecraft’s tanks. “The fuel is expected to last somewhere between the spring and summer of 2018,” said Gary Blackwood, manager of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program, at a Jan. 7 meeting of a NASA exoplanet advisory group. He added that the spacecraft’s manufacturer, Ball Aerospace, “has found very creative ways” to stretch out that remaining fuel.
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