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NASA's Kepler Enters Emergency Mode 75 Million Miles From Earth (theverge.com) 104

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: NASA engineers have declared a mission emergency for the agency's planet-hunting spacecraft Kepler, which has somehow switched into emergency mode. Now that a mission emergency has been declared, the Kepler team has priority access to NASA's deep space telecommunications system in order to try to get the spacecraft back to normal operations. Emergency mode is the lowest operational mode the spacecraft has. It also requires a lot more fuel than usual, which is why the Kepler mission team is working hard to get the spacecraft back to normal. But communication with Kepler isn't easy. The spacecraft is estimated to be 75 million miles away from Earth right now, according to NASA, so any communications signal traveling at the speed of light will take up to 13 minutes to travel to and from the spacecraft. Kepler has detected nearly 5,000 exoplanets over the years -- of which 1,000 have been confirmed.
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NASA's Kepler Enters Emergency Mode 75 Million Miles From Earth

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    > Emergency mode is the lowest operational mode the spacecraft has. It also requires a lot more fuel than usual

    Why?

    • by Yoda222 ( 943886 ) on Sunday April 10, 2016 @09:16AM (#51878833)
      Safe mode probably use thrusters instead of reaction wheel to control the attitude. Reaction wheel works with electricity (from solar array, so "unlimited"), thrusters use fuel.
      • Particularly in this case, since two reaction wheels have previously failed.

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      From the SOHO spacecraft web page [nasa.gov]:

      ESR (Emergency Sun Reacquisition) Mode

      This is the "ultimate safety net" for SOHO. In ESR, the spacecraft attitude is controlled entirely by hardware that senses the approximate position of the Sun and fires thrusters autonomously to ensure that the spacecraft is pointed towards the Sun (plus/minus 2 degrees on each axis). The spacecraft roll is not controlled by the hardware, but it can be controlled by ground intervention.

      In other words, the spacecraft goes into a mode whe

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Sunday April 10, 2016 @09:08AM (#51878801)

    You know, if you say "is", you really don't have to say "currently" or "right now", much less both.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Wrong: "is" by itself can often imply a continuing situation. If the distance varies (e.g. not orbiting the earth), adding the extra verbiage implies that the distance varies. The problem with the way they wrote it is that they didn't explain why the distance would be variable.

    • Currently, I'm not saying it's aliens...

      but it is aliens.

    • "Depends on what your definition of 'is' is": Bill Clinton

    • "is currently" is the correct phrase. Kepler is in an Earth-trailing orbit [nasa.gov] with a 371 day period. So it is constantly moving further from the Earth (at least until it reaches opposition, after which it'll start to get closer). The orbit reduces interference from the Earth [caltech.edu] (RF, thermal, and gravitational) while requiring less energy than reaching the L2, L4, or L5 Lagrange points [space.com].
  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Sunday April 10, 2016 @09:22AM (#51878871) Homepage

    Even if they don't get ti fixed, Kepler has had an absolutely amazing run. The initial planned mission lifetime was 3.5 years, and that was in 2009. So we've gotten almost twice as much out of it as it was planned.

    One of my favorite computer games from the 1990s was Masters of Orion II, 4X space exploration/conquering game. One thing in that game and many similar games was the idea that you couldn't find out what planets were in a star system until you had actually sent a probe there. It is absolutely amazing that shortly after those games were made, we had the technology to detect planets in other star systems while remaining in comfort here.

    • Even if they don't get ti fixed, Kepler has had an absolutely amazing run. The initial planned mission lifetime was 3.5 years, and that was in 2009. So we've gotten almost twice as much out of it as it was planned.

      That's a lie (or ignorance). It has been a mission plagued with problems that has not met expectations. I don't know if it has fulfilled it's planned mission, but if so, it was only just recently:

      The initial planned lifetime was 3.5 years, but greater-than-expected noise in the data, from both t

      • It is a matter of interpretation. He is neither a liar nor ignorant. Having detected 1000 and a potential 4000 more exceeds NASA's site's stated goal of hundreds of planets.

      • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

        That's a lie (or ignorance). It has been a mission plagued with problems that has not met expectations.

        Go straight in with 'lie' eh? Must be an interesting world you live in. Anyway - Kepler has confirmed over 1000 exoplanets and has four and a half thousand candidates. That's a successful mission. We didn't know that planets (particularly the small, non-hot-jupiter ones) were this prevalent until Kepler.

      • Kepler has exceeded it's mission justification by a factor of "several". It may not have exceeded your expectations - if your expectations for the mission included getting more blow jobs from green-haired aliens than William Shatner - but it has certainly far exceeded it's planned mission, to the point that NASA have been bitching (quietly) about the cost of keeping all these missions that are just running and running and running (and running and running ... ), running. "cost" not just being in dollars and
  • Kepler already had 2 of its 4 reaction wheels fail. If a third is gone, it'd mean they have to use the thrusters more, reducing mission lifetime.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday April 10, 2016 @11:54AM (#51879399)

    ... stuck tape [slashdot.org] over the lens.

    • by WallyL ( 4154209 )

      That makes it sound like a Borg put tape on it to watch it struggle like a cat with tape on its paws.

  • Must have detected a planet that didn't want to be detected.

  • UPDATE -- EM over... (Score:3, Informative)

    by martinfb ( 743607 ) on Monday April 11, 2016 @12:30PM (#51885101)
    As of Sunday morning, the Emergency Mode was resolved; and the spacecraft was returned to normal mode. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/m... [nasa.gov]
  • Kepler is now out of Emergency Mode and responding to commands.

    The Event happened before the manuver was started and probably did not involve the reaction wheels.
    The actual cause is not known yet.

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