Hubble in 'safe mode', but science operations suspended

Katie Ramirez
October 12, 2018

The telescope went into safe mode because of a failure in one of the instrument's gyroscopes, which steer Hubble and ensure it can get a steady view of space.

In a statement NASA allayed fears by saying the telescope can still carry out scientific operations with one gyro but that activities onboard the orbiter had been suspended to give engineers a chance to fix the fault. That mission restored Hubble's cameras, installed new ones and crucially, left the space telescope with six new gyroscopes, three for immediate use and three backups.

After one of the three gyroscopes failed, Hubble has entered the safe mode.

The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behaviour for approximately a year, NASA revealed, and its failure was not unexpected.

Despite a history of critical parts failing, the Hubble Space Telescope and its findings led to breakthroughs about black holes, supernovas, and even dark energy. It is expected to return to its normal operations after ground control performs analyses and tests. "The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives". For the moment, NASA has left it out of circulation, since one of the gyroscopes stopped working last Friday, so aiming at any space object is more now hard. Specifically, a gyroscope that was already acting up ultimately failed and forced NASA to switch over to its last remaining backup gyro. "An Anomaly Review Board, including experts from the Hubble team and industry familiar with the design and performance of this type of gyro, is being formed to investigate this issue and develop the recovery plan". The Hubble Space Telescope, after more than 28 years orbiting the Earth, is starting to fail, as predicted.

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"If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration", NASA said in a statement on Monday.

Due to all these reasons, Hubble remains in safe mode.

"While reduced-gyro mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities", NASA added. In other words, it has been the most critical asset that helped scientists take a better look at the Universe that, thanks to Hubble, is a little less unknown today.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has had trouble with its gyroscopes before.

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