Hubble Telescope in "Safe Mode" After Gyroscope Malfunction

Michele Stevens
October 12, 2018

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

This photo of the Hubble Space Telescope was taken on the 5th servicing mission to the observatory in 2009.

The 28-year-old telescope has had trouble with its gyroscopes before. Hubble's replacement is the James Webb Space Telescope and that's not scheduled for launch until 2021 when it will be boosted up, not to Earth orbit, but to Lagrange 2 one million miles away. Friday's failure means Hubble is down to just two, a situation that triggered its entry into safe mode.

It's been used to date the galaxy and study black holes but now NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is taking a break from activities due to a mechanical fault.

'It's true. Very stressful weekend, ' Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said on Twitter.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Hubble went into "safe mode" after one of the three gyroscopes actively being used to point and steady it failed. "Everybody said OK, no big surprise, we've been expecting that for a year, let's turn on the gyro that was off at the time to get back onto science operations".

Engineers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were reportedly forced to put the Hubble telescope in "safe mode" after one of its last three remaining gyroscopes showed signs of malfunction. The space agency still hopes that it can recover the third enhanced gyroscope and resume normal science operations.

Osten also noted that the team has had a "very stressful weekend" and that the Hubble is now "in safe mode while we figure out what to do".

NASA sent a December 1999 Space Shuttle service mission (described here) that replaced failed gyros, and a mission in 2009 (the one Hubble's twitter team referred to) again replaced gyros to extend the telescope's life. There is a third gyro that might be able to work, but last time NASA tested it there were some issues.

The failed gyroscope has already been showing end-of-life behavior for about a year, NASA said on its website. But there is "relatively limited impact" on the overall science of the machine, NASA said.

"The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives", NASA said today.

The telescope is now operating on two of these enhanced gyros.

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