The Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel and will be retired after a 9-1/2-year mission in which it detected thousands of planets beyond our solar system and boosted the search for worlds that might harbor alien life, NASA said on Tuesday.
Currently orbiting the sun 94 million miles (156 million km) from Earth, the spacecraft will drift further from our planet when mission engineers turn off its radio transmitters, the U.S. space agency said.
The telescope laid bare the diversity of planets that reside in our Milky Way galaxy, with findings indicating that distant star systems are populated with billions of planets, and even helped pinpoint the first moon known outside our solar system.
The Kepler telescope discovered more than 2,600 of the roughly 3,800 exoplanets – the term for planets outside our solar system – that have been documented in the past two decades.
Its positioning system broke down in 2013 about four years after its launch, though scientists found a way to keep it operational. But the telescope has now run out of the fuel needed for further operations, leading to its retirement.
“While this may be a sad event, we are by no means unhappy with the performance of this marvelous machine. Kepler’s nine-and-a-half year flight was more than twice the original target,” Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, told reporters on a conference call.
Kepler was succeeded by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, which was launched in April. TESS is on a two-year, $337 million mission.
NASA launched the Kepler telescope on March 6, 2009, to learn if Earth-like planets that might harbor life are common or rare in other star systems. During its mission, Kepler found 2,681 confirmed planets and another 2,899 candidates,…