Monday, 15 October, 2018

NASA Hubble Space Telescope grapples with new mechanical failure

Theresa Hayes | 09 October, 2018, 18:30

NASA became aware of the issue last Friday when a gyro, already displaying "end of life" behavior, went out of action.

Hubble has six gyroscopes it uses to point itself and keep itself steady for observations. The spacecraft has a half dozen gyroscopes built in, and they were recently replaced during a servicing mission back in 2009. "If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration", the agency stated. The Hubble Space Telescope has been sidelined by a pointing system failure. The third one hasn't been performing at the level required for operations, NASA said.

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

The Hubble Space Telescope is creeping ever closer to 30 years old, and nothing lasts forever. But it can continue to provide observations with just one functioning gyroscope.

If this is not possible, then the agency will begin operating the telescope using a single gyroscope with the other working gyroscope held in reserve to preserve the overall lifetime of the telescope. Right now HST is in safe mode while we figure out what to do.

'It's true. Very stressful weekend, ' Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said on Twitter. That extended lifetime is something the astronomical community "wants desperately", she added.

NASA was quick to offer reassurance: "Hubble's instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come", public affairs officer Felicia Chou wrote in an update on the NASA website.

Launched into deep space in 1990, the large, long orbit telescope is packed with instruments like cameras, spectrographs and interferometers to clear up mysteries of the universe.

Even if that particular gyroscope stays out of order, Hubble can get back to work - while it works best with three gyroscopes, the telescope can run on just one without losing too much scientific power.