NASA's Chandra Telescope In Safe Mode Due To Glitch

Christopher Davidson
October 13, 2018

The Chandra X-Ray Observatory, observing the universe in high-energy light since 1999, has entered a protective "safe mode", which interrupts scientific observations and puts the spacecraft into a stable configuration. "All systems functioned as expected and the scientific instruments are safe", it added.

The US space agency said that it continues to work towards resuming science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope. The space agency is now investigating the cause of the safe-mode transition. NASA doesn't yet know what triggered the space telescope to enter safe mode, but says it may be due to a gyroscope issue.

Launched by space shuttles in the 1990s, Hubble and Chandra are part of NASA's Great Observatories series.

As Chandra's Twitter account reminded readers, the powerful X-ray telescope is getting up its in age: "Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of 5 years".

Chandra is created to make X-ray observations of distant space features, including quasars, supernovas and black holes.

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Engineers are still working to determine why Chandra went into safe mode. Hubble has been in a safe mode since October 5 when one of its gyros failed and another was not "performing at the level required for operations", the agency said October 8. "The tests showed that the gyro is properly tracking Hubble's movement, but the rates reported are consistently higher than the true rates", according to NASA.

Because the gyro is reading rates of changes at a greater magnitude, it can't be used to monitor smaller changes.

That analysis is important since Hubble normally operates with three gyros.

Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed during Servicing Mission-4 in 2009. The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives.

Another NASA space telescope has shut down and halted science observations. Some astronomers are concerned that the reduced-gyro mode could adversely affect some types of observations, like solar system objects, that require the precision of three-gyro operations.

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