Planet-hunting Kepler telescope runs out of gas

Kepler space telescope
Stylized artwork shows NASA’s Kepler space telescope among planetary systems. (NASA Illustration / Wendy Stenzel / Daniel Rutter)

NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting telescope now belongs to the ages, with its fuel completely spent and its instruments shut down — but the planet quest continues, thanks to a treasure trove of downloaded data as well as a new generation of robotic planet-hunters.

Space agency officials declared the end of spacecraft operations today, nine and a half years after the car-sized probe was launched. The hydrazine fuel ran out about two weeks ago, signaled by a sharp drop in pressure readings for the propulsion system.

“In the end, we didn’t have a drop of fuel left over for anything else,” Charlie Sobeck, project system engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said during a teleconference.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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