Hubble in Safe Mode as Gyro Issues are Diagnosed

11 October, 2018, 03:30 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Image    Hubble's image of the Pillars of Creation is among the most famous ever taken

Dr. Rachel Osten, deputy mission head for the Hubble Space Telescope, tweeted, "Very stressful weekend". Friday's failure means Hubble is down to just two, a situation that triggered its entry into safe mode.

The Hubble Space Telescope is now operating in safe mode, with all science operations suspended, after one of the three gyroscopes used to aim the telescope failed on Friday 5 October.

While the telescope is not expected to be at risk of being permanently out of order, two of the four gyroscopes used to direct the telescope towards its targets in the sky have failed. Gyroscopes are needed to keep Hubble pointed in the right direction during observations.

Hubble has been orbiting Earth since 1990, and in those decades, it has overhauled our knowledge of the universe around us.

The current fault had been anticipated because the gyroscope had been "exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year", according to NASA. Another gyro failed. First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic'.

Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed in 2009; it usually uses three at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make observations with as few as one.


Hubble's success is due in no small part to five servicing missions flown by space shuttle crews, including an initial visit in 1993 to fix the telescope's flawed optics and the final visit in 2009 that replaced the gyros and provided additional upgrades.

The telescope is known to be nearing the end of its active life, with the James Webb Space Telescope - now scheduled for launch no earlier than 2021 - slated to be its successor.

NASA said staff at the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute were conducting tests and analysis to get the gyro working again. "If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration", the agency stated. For now, NASA hasn't offered any timeframe on when can we expect Hubble Space Telescope to come back into operation.

Even with one gyro working, Hubble will still be able to take part in science, NASA confirmed. The third one hasn't been performing at the level required for operations, NASA said.

Should engineers conclude that the enhanced gyro can't be used, leaving only two, controllers plan to shift to an alternative mode that allows the spacecraft to operate with just a single gyro.

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