Published: Tue, October 09, 2018
Science | By

Hubble space telescope goes into 'safe mode' over faulty gyroscope

Hubble space telescope goes into 'safe mode' over faulty gyroscope

"Very stressful weekend. Right now [the Hubble Space Telescope] is in safe mode while we figure out what to do".

As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode with non-essential systems turned off, putting all science observations on hold. These six gyroscopes were replaced during a 2009 fix mission to the telescope. After this third and final older-type gyroscope failed, technicians have tried to bring the balky enhanced gyro back online.

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

Normally, Hubble requires three gyroscopes to stabilize its orientation and function properly. NASA Goddard and Space Telescope Science Institute scientists are attempting to turn another of the newer gyros back on, but it's acting squirrelly.

"Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed during Servicing Mission-4 in 2009".

One of the telescope's most famous images is a portion of the Eagle Nebula, known as the "Pillars of Creation", which shows three columns of cold gas illuminated by light from a cluster of young stars. But after the failure last week, the Hubble is now left with only two fully-operational gyros.

Olsten confirmed the problem would not mean the end of 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.

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.

'The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would (almost pulled the plug on it back in the spring). Hubble can do good science with two gyroscopes, or even one, astrophysicist Grant Tremblay, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said via Twitter Sunday.

Dr Osten says the decision "buys lots of extra observing time" - noting that the astronomy community wanted that "desperately".

'We'll work through the issues and be back'.

"There isn't much difference between 2- [gyros] and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time", tweeted Rachel Osten, the deputy mission head for Hubble at the Space Telescope Science Institute, late October 7. That way, Hubble has a longer total lifespan.

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