The Kepler spacecraft is once again in trouble after NASA detected that the unit went into Emergency Mode (EM) on Wednesday.
After a routine communications check on Thursday, they discovered that the spacecraft was in EM just about a day and a half before
This means that its electronics have gone into its “lowest operational mode” which basically translates to it disabling as many functions as possible and consuming very low amounts of energy. However, Emergency Mode also indicates that the unit may have drifted out of its designated position and is trying to correct itself.
A side effect of this is that lots of on-board fuel is being spent to correct its position, and being 75 million miles away from Earth has made it even more difficult for NASA to diagnose the problem and restore it to an operational status. At such a distance, it takes 13 minutes for data to be sent or received between the spacecraft and NASA’s ground stations.
NASA has no idea what is wrong with Kepler, but they are in a race against time because once the fuel is spent, they won’t be able to re-position it in the future, which could put a huge dent in their K2 program.
The planet finding monster was initially carded to operate for just 3 1/2 years is now in its 7th year of operation after a major setback in 2013 when two of the four reaction wheels (responsible for controlling pitch angle) malfunctioned. As a result of this, the primary mission was scrapped, but took on a secondary objective called Second Light (K2).
Even in its shaky state, the Kepler spacecraft has achieved quite a bit, discovering over 1,000 confirmed exoplanets during its search for other planets that may prove to be habitable.