Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Hubble is in safe mode. Science operations suspended

2006 by the European Space Agency shows one-half of the Hubble Space Telescope field of view with nine stars that are orbited by planets with periods of a few days. Planets so close to their stars with such short orbi Image Hubble's deep view of the sky has revealed an enormous number of galaxies
Theresa Hayes | 11 October, 2018, 09:31

Bottom line: The Hubble Space Telescope has been in safe mode since last Friday evening, following the failure of one of the gyros that helps stabilize it. NASA is analyzing the problem and hopes to resume operations soon. As a result, Hubble remains in safe mode.

The six gyros on the Hubble were replaced in 2009 during the final servicing mission to the instrument by NASA's space shuttle.

Hubble was built with six gyroscopes created to keep the telescope pointed the same way for long periods of time.

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.

As some of the few moving parts on Hubble, these gyroscopes have a much shorter lifespan than the rest of the telescope.

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

NASA's preference, the post said, is to return Hubble to service in its standard three-gyro configuration. Ideally, Hubble would use three of them simultaneously "for maximum efficiency", but it can continue making observations with one, the agency said in another tweet.

Hubble has made numerous outstanding observations of the cosmos since it was deployed in 1990. A replacement for the device, the James Webb Space Telescope, has already been established but won't launch until 2021.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has had trouble with its gyroscopes before. This is one reason why NASA sought to install three enhanced gyros on the telescope in 2009. The telescope only needs three gyros for it to work properly, while the other three are held in reserve in case of failure.

The failed gyroscope has already been showing end-of-life behavior for about a year, NASA said on its website. While the mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is a relatively limited impact on overall scientific capabilities.

Only two of those enhanced gyros are now running.

The news came as a shock to the fans of the venerable space telescope, which has sent down jaw-dropping images and data to address cosmic conundrums ranging from planetary origins to the age of the universe. "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".