Hubble Space Telescope Malfunction Won't Last Long, NASA Says

Image    The Whirlpool Galaxy is one of the most famous images Hubble captured

Image The Whirlpool Galaxy is one of the most famous images Hubble captured

Hubble's pseudo-successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, was supposed to already be up and running for years by this point, but Northrop Grumman's inability to do the job it's being paid billions of dollars to do has caused over a decade's worth of delays. But when the third one was powered up, it wasn't operating as it should be, so NASA Goddard engineers placed the telescope in safe mode while they try to figure out the problem.

NASA said on October 8, 2018, that the Hubble Space Telescope has been in "safe" mode - that is, not in an operational mode - since Friday, October 5, shortly after 6 p.m. EDT.

"Broken gyro worked badly for about a year, and its failure was not a surprise".

The telescope could work with as few as one or two gyroscopes, although that leaves little room for additional breakdowns.

The telescope went into safe mode because of a failure in one of the instrument's gyroscopes, which steer Hubble and ensure it can get a steady view of space.

The solution. NASA has three backup gyros that are more advanced technically and will hope to have longer lives. Exhibiting end-of-life behavior for about a year, the gadget actually exceeded expectations.

Dr. Rachel Osten, the deputy head of the Hubble mission, said it had been a "very stressful weekend". The spacecraft has a half dozen gyroscopes built in, and they were recently replaced during a servicing mission back in 2009.

The plan "has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain", Osten said, adding "there isn't much difference between 2- and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time".

Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the Hubble team is optimistic the problem can be resolved.

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.

Hubble, which is in low Earth orbit just 340 miles above the planet, was launched on board the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990.

Hubble is now down to two working gyros and needs at least three for optimal operations.

The telescope needs three working gyroscopes to "ensure optimal efficiency", mission team members have written, and the failure brings that number down to two (if the "problematic" one that had been off can't be brought back online). That gyro, which had been powered down, is not "performing at the level required for operations", according to spacecraft telemetry after it was commanded to turn on.

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