Kepler's latest observing campaign, K2 Campaign 19, started on August 29 after the spacecraft's configuration had been modified in order to adapt to a change in thruster performance. Since then, the spacecraft has been collecting data for the Campaign's 33,000 targets, including the well-known planet systems TRAPPIST-1 and GJ 9827.
During a recent Deep Space Network (DSN) contact, the Kepler team received data showing that the spacecraft’s ability to point precisely has degraded. In order to preserve the high-value science data collected so far, the Kepler team has placed the spacecraft in its stable, no-fuel-use "nap mode" on September 26.
During Kepler’s allotted DSN time, scheduled to begin October 10, the Kepler team will transmit the science data home. Due to uncertainties about the remaining available fuel, there is no guarantee that we will be able to download the science data. If successful the Kepler team will attempt to start K2 Campaign 20 with the remaining fuel.
Frequenty Asked Questions
General questions related to Kepler’s low fuel state have previously been answered in the Kepler Fuel Status FAQ. The extra FAQ below answers questions that are specific to the current and future K2 Campaigns.
Will the quality of Campaign 19 data be affected?
Preliminary indications are that the telescope’s pointing performance may be degraded during some portions of Campaign 19.
When will Campaign 19 data become available?
The project currently plans to downlink the data between October 10 and 15, 2018. If we are able to downlink the data successfully, the raw data are expected to become available from the data archive at MAST within a few days thereafter. Since the pointing performance has degraded, it’s unclear whether we’ll be able to provide calibrated data products and what timeline might be required for processing. Our current estimates are no earlier than January 2019.
Will Campaign 20 continue?
NASA anticipates that the spacecraft will soon run out of fuel, but it remains unclear how much remains. NASA’s goal is to collect and downlink as much science data as possible while the spacecraft remains viable. If the Campaign 19 data downlink is successful, the Kepler team will attempt Campaign 20.
Should I continue to use my telescope resources to augment Campaign 19 and 20 data?
Several science programs seek to complement Campaigns 19 and 20 using simultaneous observations carried out using ground-based telescope facilities. The PI's of these programs can phone the Kepler GO office at +1-650-604-2784 to request up-to-date guidance as needed.
Does low fuel mark the end of Kepler’s discoveries?
Not at all! We expect that Kepler’s data set will continue to yield discoveries for years to come, and that many planets are yet to be discovered. NASA will continue to support and fund the analysis of the Kepler and K2 data sets beyond the end of spacecraft operations.