NASA Kepler spacecraft very low on fuel, put into hibernation mode

NASA has announced that its Kepler team has put the spacecraft into a state similar to hibernation. The decision to put Kepler into the hibernation-like state was due to a recent "indication" that it is "very low" on fuel. During this low-power state, the space agency's team will prepare to download scientific data gathered by the spacecraft, after which point it may continue onto a new mission.

Kepler is the space observatory NASA launched back in 2009 as part of its hunt for Earth-like planets. The spacecraft has been traveling for nearly a decade, but a recent alert revealed a sad fact: it's almost out of fuel. According to NASA, May 12 marked the start of Kepler's 18th observational campaign, which involved focusing on the Cancer constellation.

For now, Kepler's team is concentrating on the downloading of data gathered during the spacecraft's most recent observation. The hibernation-like mode will conserve fuel in preparation for this download period, after which point NASA plans to send Kepler off to make more observations. That mission will continue for however long the fuel lasts; the space agency expects this to be "in the next few months."

The low fuel warning didn't catch NASA by surprise, though. The space agency says it has been carefully monitoring the spacecraft for signs of low fuel. The 19th observation campaign is scheduled to start on August 6, but before that on August 2, Kepler will be brought out of its low power mode.

Once brought out of the mode, the spacecraft will be reorientated for the downlink of the scientific data. Assuming this is successful, according to NASA, the August 9th campaign will start. During its time, Kepler has discovered 2,650 confirmed planets.