The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will be putting an end to the Kepler space telescope’s operations after almost a decade, the agency announced on Tuesday. “NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations,” it said. “NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth.”
The unmanned space telescope, launched in March 2009, contributed to the discovery of 2,600 planets, some of which may hold life, said agency officials. “When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago, we didn’t know of a single planet outside our solar system,” said the mission’s founding principal investigator William Borucki. “Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that’s full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy.”
NASA said that the most recent analysis of Kepler’s discoveries showed that 20% to 50% of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small planets similar in size to Earth, located within the habitable zone of their parent stars. This leads to the conclusion that the planets might be home to liquid water, pointing to the possibility of the existence of life forms.
The telescope used the largest digital camera for outer space observations to estimate stellar brightness. Initially, it was used to study 1,50,000 stars in the Cygnus constellation. The telescope soon became the first NASA mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars.
The Kepler telescope will be succeeded by NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April. The new spacecraft will focus on searching for nearby exoplanets.