Goodbye, Kepler Space Telescope
NASA’s venerable Kepler space telescope, which discovered nearly 2,700 exoplanets in distant star systems, has officially been retired after finally running out of fuel, the space agency wrote in a statement on Tuesday. When it launched in 2009, it was equipped with “the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time,” NASA wrote, and scientists on Earth had very limited knowledge of planets beyond the reach of the solar system.
Despite a malfunctioning steering system and dwindling hydrazine fuel levels, the $600 million spacecraft stayed in action for nine years and 19 observation campaigns—far longer than its original four-year mission. Per the Verge, Kepler is now awaiting a command sometime in the next two weeks that will deactivate its transmitter and other instruments. After that, it will drift silently in a safe orbit trailing the Earth (at a distance of 94 million miles in March 2018, though this will continue to increase over time).