Published: Fri, October 12, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Hubble trouble: Deep space telescope in 'safe mode' after mechanical fail

Hubble trouble: Deep space telescope in 'safe mode' after mechanical fail

The three gyroscopes still in operation (including the backup that is now malfunctioning) are of a newer type, and are expected to live five times as long as the older ones, which last four to six years.The team expects Hubble to continue doing science well into the 2020s and to have years of overlap with its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in 2021. Hubble Space Observatory was sent to scan through the cosmos on shuttle Discovery in April 1990 after which, it received a total of five repairs and servicing missions with the latest being in 2009. The Hubble Space Telescope also uses three gyroscopes at a time for "maximum efficiency", but it can also still make scientific observations with one.

The failed gyro which has been failed had been showing that end of life behaviour for approximately a year and this type of failure is not expected at all this time.

But when ground controllers tried to bring the backup gyroscope online, it behaved erratically, sending garbled messages back to the ground, said Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which operates the telescope. The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and expected to have significantly longer operational lives. The telescope could work with as few as one or two gyroscopes, although that leaves little room for additional breakdowns.

After one of the three gyroscopes failed, Hubble has entered the safe mode.

Dr. Rachel Osten, deputy mission head for the Hubble Space Telescope, tweeted, "Very stressful weekend".

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"Science operations with Hubble have been suspended while NASA investigates the anomaly", the update reads.

NASA said that two gyros are now running. "If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration". But now NASA has been forced to place one of it's prize assets into "safe mode" due to the malfunction of a gyroscope used to balance and navigate the $2.5 billion telescope. If successful, Hubble will return to its regular scientific operations.

Amateur astronomers have also been given access to Hubble for research purposes.

According to BBC News, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is Hubble's designated successor, but it has experienced a series of delays and will not launch until 2021, at the earliest.

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