CU scientists recover Kepler Space Telescope from emergency mode

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BOULDER, Colo. -- Scientists and engineers have regained contact with the Kepler Space Telescope after it went into an emergency mode last week.

On Thursday during a scheduled check, the spacecraft was discovered to be in emergency mode. Scientists believe it went into EM about 36 hours earlier. According to NASA, it is the lowest operational mode and burns a lot of fuel.

Emergency mode is considered a spacecraft emergency. For scientists and engineers who work on the craft and communications, recovering from EM is top priority.

It is a huge challenge though. Keplar is about 75 million miles from Earth, meaning it takes 13 minutes for a signal to make a round-trip journey between Earth and the spacecraft.

The Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado is responsible for controlling the maneuvers of Kepler. Bill Possel, the director of mission operations and data systems at LASP, said scientists got in touch with Kepler at 3 a.m. Friday and have been working around the clock to troubleshoot the problem.

According to Possel, at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the spacecraft will be switched into PRS, a type of safe mode that will allow scientists to override Kepler’s systems and extract more date to figure out what went wrong.

PRS is a stable mode and Kepler is no longer considered to be in an emergency situation. While in PRS, scientists on the ground will be able to have constant communication with the spacecraft.

Kepler was built by Boulder-based Ball Aerospace. A team from Ball has been working closely with LASP since Kepler went into emergency mode.

Ball scientists and engineers will be monitoring Kepler for the next several days as they begin to analyze the data to try to figure out what prompted it to go into EM.

Possel said he was not sure what the future will hold for Kepler after this issue. It will be up to Ball Aerospace to determine if the spacecraft will be able to continue to operate.

Kepler was launched in 2009. It was designed to seek out new planets in the space. In 2014 it began a new mission called K2. While it continues to search for planets, it also allows for more research of stars and other objects in space.

Kepler was supposed to begin moving toward the center of the Milky Way when it went into EM. ​