There's something wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope

Cesar Mills
October 11, 2018

NASA positioned its acclaimed Hubble Space Telescope in a safe technique due to gyroscope issues the space agency committed on Monday.

As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode with non-essential systems turned off, putting all science observations on hold. Scientists had already planned to reduce Hubble to using only a single gyroscope at a time once it was down to three, that being meant to prolong the space telescope's lifespan for as long as possible.

Responding to a claim that the safe mode was "scary news for the most famous telescope in history", Dr Osten downplayed the issues.

"Hubble's instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come", NASA added.

At maximum efficiency, Hubble uses three gyroscopes in order to orient itself to observe a target in the sky. "First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic", she wrote on Sunday.

Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.

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.

"The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected; two other gyros of the same type had already failed", NASA officials said in the statement.

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The 28-year-old telescope has had trouble with its gyroscopes before.

"The plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain", Rachel Osten, deputy head of the Hubble mission, said on Twitter.

If the outcome indicates that the gyro is not usable, Hubble will resume science operations in an already defined "reduced-gyro" mode that uses only one gyro.

Failing gyroscopes are not uncommon, so Hubble was equipped with six new ones (which included backups in case of failure) on a 2009 mission to service the telescope, which was launched all the way back in 1990.

Unfortunately, one of the gyros in reserve also experienced a malfunction while ground control was trying to turn it on this weekend. "The fact that we're having some gyro problems, that's kind of a long tradition with the observatory".

It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.

"Obviously, we don't want to make things worse", he said.

Other reports by GizPress

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