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11 October 2018, 09:34 | Ross Houston
Hubble in trouble as telescope ‘suffers failure and goes into safe mode’
NASA's venerable Hubble Space Telescopeis in safe mode after the failure of one of its gyros and a problem with another, but the agency said this specific problem did not put the orbiting observatory in jeopardy. As a result, Hubble remains in safe mode.
If needed, the Hubble Space Telescope can operate using just one gyroscope; and, as we saw with the Kepler Space Telescope, which lost the second of its four reaction wheels in 2013, a space telescope can continue to be useful even after it loses its ability to point effectively. For now, NASA hasn't offered any timeframe on when can we expect Hubble Space Telescope to come back into operation.
Hubble was built with six gyroscopes created to keep the telescope pointed the same way for long periods of time.
Hubble is now down to two working gyros and needs at least three for optimal operations.
"It's true. Very stressful weekend".
"The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would", said Hubble deputy mission head Rachel Osten in a tweet.
NASA staff working 24/7 to deal with Hubble space telescope issues
More than 30 astronauts have flown to Hubble to deploy, upgrade and fix the observatory with the support of a human spaceflight and space shuttle staff. Thousands of astronomers from dozens of countries have used Hubble and analyzed its data to produce more than 15,000 peer reviewed papers to date.
The telescope is known to be nearing the end of its active life, with the James Webb Space Telescope - now scheduled for launch no earlier than 2021 - slated to be its successor.
Update for 12:50 p.m. PT Oct. 8: We've added NASA's statement on the gyro issue. Spacewalking shuttle astronauts replaced all six in 2009 during the final servicing mission. Hubble uses its gyroscopes to keep itself aimed precisely at what astronomers are using it to observe.
"The plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain".
Two gyros of the same type had already failed.
Three of the gyros are older models that have a history of trouble after 50,000 hours or so of service. That issue is keeping the spacecraft from resuming normal operations using three gyros.
The instrument, named after astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, has been celebrated for its involvement in tracking asteroids, analysing the Kuiper Belt and documenting the nebula of dying stars.
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