The mission has already completed 16 campaigns and this month entered its 17th. During its nine-year-long flight, Kepler has survived many potential knockouts, from mechanical failures to being blasted by cosmic rays. It was launched in 2009 and expected to last three-and-a-half years. It carried 12 kg of fuel at launch.
The Kepler telescope team in 2012
The Kepler team is planning now to collect as much science data as possible in its remaining time and beam it back to Earth before the loss of the fuel-powered thrusters means that we can’t aim the spacecraft for data transfer.Being at 94 million miles away (151.2 million km), Kepler won’t burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. In around 40 years from now, Earth will pass close enough to Kepler to give it a gravity assist. Earth will catch up with Kepler from behind – and the cycle could repeat “indefinitely”, NASA said.NASA’s Kepler mission has been named the winner of the 2012 Aviation Week Laureate Award in the Space category. Replacing Kepler, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will be launching on April 16 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. TESS will search nearly the entire sky for planets outside our solar system, focusing on the brightest stars less than 300 light-years away, and adding to Kepler’s treasure trove of planet discoveries.