Gyroscope Malfunction Forces NASA To Put Hubble Into 'Safe Mode'

Image    Hubble's image of the Pillars of Creation is among the most famous ever taken

The Hubble space telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990, is now out of action because of a gyroscope failure, the U.S. space agency said Monday. As a result, NASA put Hubble into a safe-point mode.

Staff at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are conducting analyses and tests to correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation. The 28-year-old Hubble Telescope has been key to NASA and independent research of space.

The Hubble Space Telescope sports six high-speed gyroscopes which help it accurately aim and move from target to target while keeping it in a fixed position.

In a statement NASA allayed fears by saying the telescope can still carry out scientific operations with one gyro but that activities onboard the orbiter had been suspended to give engineers a chance to fix the fault. This essentially leaves Hubble with only two fully functional ones.

"It's true. Very stressful weekend".

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Dr. Rachel Osten, the deputy head of the Hubble mission, said the first step "is to try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic". Assuming the team can rescue the malfunctioning gyroscope, Hubble will resume operations in its standard three-gyro configuration.

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.

Caption: A photo taken by the Hubble space telescope. Astronomers are aiming to prolong Hubble's life, but losing another gyroscope makes life hard. An Anomaly Review Board, including experts from the Hubble team and industry familiar with the design and performance of this type of gyro, is being formed to investigate this issue and develop the recovery plan. Spacewalking shuttle astronauts replaced all six in 2009. This past Friday night, Hubble was operating normally with two newer gyros and one older model. Exhibiting end-of-life behavior for about a year, the gadget actually exceeded expectations.

But that doesn't mean it's time to panic. "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". If Hubble breaks down completely before that date, astronomers will be without a space telescope.

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