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Kepler Spacecraft Is Stable And Out Of Emergency Status, NASA Says

Days after they declared a spacecraft emergency over the Kepler space telescope, NASA engineers say the craft has now recovered and that they're working to figure out what happened.

Kepler, which is currently nearly 75 million miles away from Earth, placed itself into Emergency Mode sometime in the middle of last week. But it wasn't until a scheduled contact on Thursday that mission engineers discovered the problem. That led NASA to declare a wider emergency, giving the mission priority access to communications through its Deep Space Network.

NASA now says that Kepler mission engineers have recovered the spacecraft from its Emergency Mode.

On Sunday, the craft directed its communications antenna toward Earth, "enabling telemetry and historical event data to be downloaded to the ground," the space agency says.

In its original mission to seek out exoplanets (planets that orbit other stars), Kepler found 4,696 candidates. More than 1,000 of those have been confirmed as planets, with 12 classified as being in the "small habitable zone" — a reference to the area near a star in which life might be supported.

After its original mission ended amid technical problems, Kepler was restored to utility and has been working in "K2" mode — a secondary mission in which 39 out of 270 exoplanet candidates it identified have been confirmed. The K2 phase of its operations involves the study of the Milky Way galaxy.

"The anomalous EM event is the first that the Kepler spacecraft has encountered during its seven years in space," NASA says. It also says that the EM event started hours before engineers were scheduled to orient the spacecraft toward the center of the Milky Way for Campaign 9, which NASA describes as "a study of gravitational microlensing events."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.