NASA’s Kepler space telescope is going offline after finally running out of fuel. Sometime within the next two weeks, a command will be issued that will deactivate its transmitter and other instruments. The telescope is expected to remain in a safe orbit far from Earth after its deactivation.
Kepler launched in 2009 equipped with “the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time,” according to NASA literature from the time. The telescope was launched with enough fuel on board to last for more than six years. It has been running on fumes for months.
The telescope remained operational for nine years and 19 observation campaigns, far surpassing its original four-year mission. Together, the missions discovered and confirmed the existence of 2,681 planets. Many of those planets are between the size of the Earth and Neptune.
In the last years of its operation, it suffered from a malfunctioning steering system and dwindling hydrazine fuel levels. It also experienced problems with one of its thrusters in August 2018, causing the telescope to go into sleep mode. NASA was able to bring it back online in September.
In a statement, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in DC, said that Kepler’s mission had “wildly exceeded all our expectations.” He said, “Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm.”
The telescope’s successor, named Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April 2018. The agency is also planning to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021.