NASA X-ray Space Telescope back online after brief shutdown

Christopher Davidson
October 16, 2018

At approximately 9:55 a.m. EDT on October 10, 2018, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, in which the observatory is put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun. "In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years". The Chandra X-ray Observatory is healthy and set to resume science operations after a problem forced it into safe mode on October 10. Chandra entered a safe configuration early Wednesday in order to protect itself during the issue, which NASA said may have involved a gyroscope. Analysis of available data indicates the transition to safe mode was normal behavior for such an event.

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

X-rays are still an important kind of light for understanding our universe. The observatory spies on objects that include black holes, galaxies, supernovas, high-temperature gases, and quasars throughout the x-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to help us better understand the universe.

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"You can only get a full picture of celestial sources by looking at all wavebands", said Wilkes.

Chandra, launched in 1999, is well beyond the original design lifetime of 5 years. "The cause of the safe mode transition (possibly involving a gyroscope) is under investigation", NASA said in a statement late on Friday. Scientists attempted to bring a backup gyroscope online after an older one failed, but the backup wasn't operating properly. A board is now addressing the problem and proposing solutions, according to a NASA release.

If they can get the gyro working once again, the telescope will continue normal operations. Otherwise, astronomers will operate Hubble with fewer gyroscopes-a strategy that will extend its lifespan but slightly limit where the telescope can point.

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