NASA staff working 24/7 to deal with Hubble space telescope issues

Cristina Cross
October 12, 2018

Scientists had already planned to reduce Hubble to using only a single gyroscope at a time once it was down to three, that being meant to prolong the space telescope's lifespan for as long as possible. But, over the years, some of these gyroscopes have failed and stopped functioning properly.

"The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected", the agency said in its statement. As a result, NASA put Hubble into a safe-point mode. Astronomers are aiming to prolong Hubble's life, but losing another gyroscope makes life hard. A series of space missions were needed to fix technical problems - affecting the gyroscopes among other things - since Hubble's launch in 1990.

"The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would", said Hubble deputy mission head Rachel Osten in a tweet.

One of the standard gyros failed, making all three of the standard variety unusable, according to the space agency.

The telescope, in low orbit around the Earth since its launch in 1990, was last outfitted with six new gyros in a servicing mission in 2009, according to NASA.

Currently, staff at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are trying to find out options to recover the dysfunctional gyro.

"The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives", NASA said today.

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The telescope could work with as few as one or two gyroscopes, although that leaves little room for additional breakdowns. In addition, one of the enhanced gyros had been acting up, so it had been taken out of service in favor of the third and final old-design one. "Everybody said OK, no big surprise, we've been expecting that for a year, let's turn on the gyro that was off at the time to get back onto science operations".

Osten said the team knew the gyroscope issue was imminent, but she sounds confident about overcoming this latest obstacle to Hubble's continuing operation.

"The plan has always been to drop to 1-gryo mode when two remain", Osten said in a Twitter exchange.

'Which the Astro community wants desperately.

Hubble's successor, James Webb, the large space American telescope after successive delays, will not be launched before 2021.

"While reduced-gyro mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities".

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