Hubble Operations Suspended While NASA Investigates Gyro Issue

Gwen Vasquez
October 11, 2018

Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) being used to point and steady the telescope failed last week.

As a result, Hubble remains in so-called safe mode and all science observations are on hold.

Most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen as it is suspended in space by Discovery's Remote Manipulator System (RMS) following the deployment of part of its solar panels and antennae.

Although NASA revealed the telescope's gyroscope failure, it didn't disclose very many other details.

Two of Hubble's gyroscopes are working fine, Sembach said. 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.

It is equipped with six sophisticated, high-speed gyroscopes to help it move from target to target and to provide data needed to keep the telescope solidly locked on while its cameras and spectrometers collect data. We typically figure out what's happening and figure out an appropriate course forward. Astronomers are aiming to prolong Hubble's life, but losing another gyroscope makes life hard. In 2009. six new gyros were installed - three are used for maximum efficiency and three for backup.

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"Three of them were on and one was off", Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University, told CBS News.

Denser pockets of gas and dust, however, can resist this erosion for longer.

The telescope could work with as few as one or two gyroscopes, although that leaves little room for additional breakdowns. The current problem, though, is a reminder that, with the retirement of the shuttle, NASA now lacks a means to fix or upgrade Hubble.

Osten said the team knew the gyroscope issue was imminent, but she sounds confident about overcoming this latest obstacle to Hubble's continuing operation. "[We] nearly pulled the plug on it back in the spring". After this third and final older-type gyroscope failed, technicians have tried to bring the balky enhanced gyro back online. That issue is keeping the spacecraft from resuming normal operations using three gyros. There isn't much difference between 2- and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time. "Which the Astro community wants desperately".

Astronomers have been hoping that Hubble will continue to operate long enough to cover the transition to NASA's next-generation James Webb Space Telescope.

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