Hubble Space Telescope in safe mode after gyro failure

Katie Ramirez
October 11, 2018

It's been used to date the galaxy and study black holes but now NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is taking a break from activities due to a mechanical fault. It's been peering into the depths of space for almost three decades now, and while it's had a few hiccups in the past, it's always managed to push through them and continue providing humanity with unbelievable observations.

In a series of tweets and a press release, the space agency revealed that one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) that is now in use failed. "So, there's been a great hope in the astronomical community that Hubble could continue doing that sort of science even when James Webb was launched".

'It's true. Very stressful weekend, ' Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said on Twitter. Spacewalking shuttle astronauts replaced all six in 2009 during the final servicing mission.

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The remaining three available for use are technically enhanced, and, therefore, are expected to have significantly longer operational lives.

NASA's decision to retire its space shuttles in 2011 means that astronauts can not service the 28-year-old observatory as they once did.

More than 30 astronauts have flown to Hubble to deploy, upgrade and fix the observatory with the support of a human spaceflight and space shuttle staff. Thousands of astronomers from dozens of countries have used Hubble and analyzed its data to produce more than 15,000 peer reviewed papers to date. Another gyro failed. First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic'.

The Hubble Space Telescope sports six high-speed gyroscopes which help it accurately aim and move from target to target while keeping it in a fixed position.

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'We'll work through the issues and be back'. That gyro, which had been powered down, is not "performing at the level required for operations", according to spacecraft telemetry after it was commanded to turn on.

NASA's preference, the post said, is to return Hubble to service in its standard three-gyro configuration.

However, if that does not work, she said that the plan has always been to just use one of the remaining gyros and keep the other one as a reserve.

Update for 12:50 p.m. PT Oct. 8: We've added NASA's statement on the gyro issue.

If not, the spacecraft will simply move on, running a "reduced-gyro" mode that uses only one spinning wheel.

Before the last week, two of the old-design gyros had failed.

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