Hubble Space Telescope Enters Safe Mode After Gyroscope Failure

Christopher Davidson
October 11, 2018

The failure of the gyro does not come as a surprise because, according to the space agency, it has been showing signs that it might be ready to retire for about a year now.

Space-watchers have been nervously watching that bit of space occupied by the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA tries to diagnose a problem with its gyroscopes.

"There isn't much difference between 2- [gyros] and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time", tweeted Rachel Osten, the deputy mission head for Hubble at the Space Telescope Science Institute, late October 7.

The six gyros on the Hubble were restored in 2009 during concluding servicing mission to the instrument by NASA's space shuttle.

"Three of them were on and one was off", Sembach said.

Till then science operations with Hubble have been suspended. "The fact that we're having some gyro problems, that's kind of a long tradition with the observatory". However, Hubble can operate in a limited capacity using a single gyroscope.

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Besides delivering jaw-dropping images of the universe around us, Hubble is responsible for a series of scientific discoveries, including what may be the first-known exomoon in orbit around a world outside our solar system.

Since its launch, the space telescope has made over 163,500 trips around Earth, more than 1.5 million observations of over 43,500 celestial objects and generated 153 terabytes of data, as per cnet.com. The safe mode is meant to keep the telescope "precisely pointed" for a long duration, the space agency explains, stating that experts are working on fixing the problem. This was one of the rationale why NASA solicit to establish three augmented gyros on the telescope in 2009. That's the one that flight controllers turned on Saturday as a backup; as of Monday, it still wasn't working as expected.

Sembach said everyone wants to be careful in attempting a fix.

"So things closer in in the solar system than, say, the orbit of Mars, that would be more hard", he said.

Ground operators put the telescope into this stable configuration after one of the three active gyros that steadies and points the telescope failed. 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. "I'm sure Hubble has many years of good science ahead of it".

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