Gyroscope malfunction forces Hubble Space Telescopes into safe mode

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

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

Astronauts on a space shuttle servicing mission in 2009 replaced all six of Hubble's gyroscopes, but NASA no longer has the option of sending a shuttle for repairs.

Should engineers conclude that the enhanced gyro can't be used, leaving only two, controllers plan to shift to an alternative mode that allows the spacecraft to operate with just a single gyro. After this third and final older-type gyroscope failed, technicians have tried to bring the balky enhanced gyro back online. That was unfortunate, as the telescope requires at least three functional gyroscopes for optimal use.

NASA originally designed Hubble with six internal gyroscopes, but these components have a limited lifespan.

The Space Telescope Science Institute's deputy mission head, Dr. Rachel Osten, said the first move "is to try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic". That would permit one of the two gyros to be turned off, preserving its life until it's needed when the other fails.

But some have suggested another servicing mission to keep Hubble functioning even after the launch of the JWST.

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.

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But, while Osten shared on Twitter that it has been a "very stressful weekend", she also assured the general public that "we knew it was coming", and that this gyro actually lasted longer than the team had initially planned for.

The troublesome gyroscope leaves two functioning ones, reports. The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would (almost pulled the plug on it back in the spring).

"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", Chou wrote.

Update for 12:50 p.m. PT Oct. 8: We've added NASA's statement on the gyro issue.

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

Hubble has made numerous outstanding observations of the cosmos since it was deployed in 1990.

The Hubble Space Telescope has been sidelined by a serious pointing problem.



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