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Kepler is in an earth-trailing orbit with a period of 372.5 days, so it lags behind the Earth about a week each year. Doesn't that mean that, in about 52 years, we'll meet it from the other direction? What happens then?

Will the telescope have drifted out of Earth's path? Will it burn up in the atmosphere? Or are we hoping we'll have the means to deal with space debris as large as Kepler by then? I've been reading all the sources I can find for the past couple of days, but I can't find anything. Anyone know what NASA plans to do?

Thanks!

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  • $\begingroup$ We just recently passed by ISEE-3 (or ICE) last year, I think. It was sent after a comet back in the early-to-mid 80's, I believe, and then went around the sun for nearly 30 years before coming back by Earth. When it got close enough, a small group of scientists were able to find its beacon signal announcing the spacecraft still had power. However, because it is moving faster than Earth, its orbital radius is less than that of Earth (by several hundred Earth radii I think). So it won't hit us and I am guessing Kepler is orbiting at a larger radii than Earth... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 15:11

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Space is big. Most likely (with many nines), it will miss the earth since they are not on the same orbit.

It is possible that it could interact with the earth at some point in the future. However, the spacecraft is only a little more than 1000kg. As a single object in a heliocentric orbit, the risk from it is nearly zero. Tiny metal fragments in earth orbit have a greater probabilistic danger to other craft than kepler does.

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