The planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope has been returned to stable condition just days after it slipped into "emergency mode," according to NASA. Team engineers were able to point the spacecraft's communications antenna toward Earth on Sunday morning and have since been downloading data that will tell them exactly what went wrong.
The Kepler Space Telescope is 75 million miles away from Earth, so it takes 13 minutes for signals to travel to and from the spacecraft. NASA declared a "spacecraft emergency" when it learned late last week that the telescope had slipped itself into emergency mode for an unknown reason. This granted the Kepler team priority access to the Deep Space Network, a spacecraft telecommunications system run by NASA. The DSN has returned to normal schedule in light of the news, according to the space agency.
Kepler will return to 'science mode' once health checks are completed
"It was the quick response and determination of the engineers throughout the weekend that led to the recovery," Charlie Sobeck, Kepler's mission manager, said in a statement. "We are deeply appreciative of their efforts, and for the outpouring of support from the mission's fans and followers from around the world."
Time was of the essence in rescuing the Kepler telescope from emergency mode. It is the spacecraft's lowest operational mode, but it is also the most fuel-intesive, and fuel is the biggest determining factor in the the remaining life of Kepler's latest mission.
The Kepler team will make a decision about returning the telescope to "science mode" once it has completed health checks on all the recent data from the spacecraft. Kepler was 14 hours away from beginning the next part of its mission when it slipped into emergency mode, but NASA says the spacecraft has until July 1st to complete that campaign.