October 16, 2018

Hubble gyroscope failure puts space telescope into safe mode

09 October 2018, 01:22 | Edward Lowe

The message said "mission experts" were working to fix the problem.

As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode with non-essential systems turned off, putting all science observations on hold.

Astronomers are anxiously awaiting the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for 2021, but until then Hubble remains the most powerful space telescope in the sky - and the best tool for peering deep into space. NASA replaced all six of Hubble's gyroscopes in the final 2009 servicing mission.

According to Deputy Hubble Mission Head Rachel Osten, the single-gyro mode is not much worse than two gyros. 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.

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'First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic'. Gyroscopes use the principle of angular momentum to track movements, which allows the satellite to ensure it's pointed in the right direction.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has had trouble with its gyroscopes before.

"Not really scary, we knew it was coming". The newly failed gyro is the last of that old design, and it lasted about six months longer than expected.

But don't panic: while the telescope needs three gyroscopes for "optimal efficiency", it can operate with less, reported.

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The telescope could work with as few as one or two gyroscopes, although that leaves little room for additional breakdowns. The team is now working to bring another gyro online, but Hubble may be limited in what it can do going forward.

She explained that there are plans in place to deal with the eventuality of the HST dropping down to a one-gyro mode when two remained. "Which the Astro community wants desperately".

Hubble's primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long - the length of a large school bus.

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