Hubble Space Telescope is in trouble after gyroscope failure

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

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

Worry rippled through the astronomical community this weekend as NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescopewas in safe mode - but NASA confirmed in a statement released yesterday (Oct. 8) that the agency expected the instrument to be back at work soon.

Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the Hubble team is optimistic the problem can be resolved.

Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) being used to point and steady the telescope failed last week. The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would (almost pulled the plug on it back in the spring). And so, that appears to be an issue that we don't understand fully at the moment.

The failing scope had problems earlier in the mission with "noisy" electrical signals, but engineers developed a software patch to permit normal operation.

Named after astronomer Edwin P. Hubble, the foremost American astronomer of the 20th century, the sophisticated optical observatory was placed into orbit about 600 kilometers (370 miles) above Earth by the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery on April 25, 1990. The device refused one of the three gyroscopes, which is used for aiming a telescope at the target and hold it in a fixed position. The remaining three available for use are technically enhanced, and, therefore, are expected to have significantly longer operational lives.

All six of Hubble's gyroscopes were replaced by space station astronauts during a servicing mission in 2009, but only two of those are now functioning properly.

However, in the article issued by NASA this gyroscope has been exhibiting "end-of-life" behavior for a year, and the failure was no surprise, as two other gyros have also failed.

As Space.com reports, the Hubble requires a trio of gyroscopes to operate at its optimal capacity.

The plan "has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain", Osten said, adding "there isn't much difference between 2- and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time".

The James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, is scheduled to be launched in March 2021.

NASA's preference, the post said, is to return Hubble to service in its standard three-gyro configuration. Hubble usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make scientific observations with just one.