Gyroscope Malfunction Forces NASA To Put Hubble Into ‘Safe Mode’

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The Hubble Space Telescope had to be placed into safe mode after it encountered a major issue on Friday, Oct. 5. 

Hubble Space Telescope Goes Into Safe Mode

NASA confirmed the status of the spacecraft on Monday, Oct. 8. In a series of tweets and a press release, the space agency revealed that one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) that is currently in use failed. 

Gyros are used to stabilize the space telescope and point it precisely into a particular direction to make observations for long periods of time. Fortunately, the spacecraft has six gyros onboard for situations like this; three of which are more technologically advanced and, therefore, have longer lifespans. The Hubble Space Telescope also uses three gyroscopes at a time for “maximum efficiency,” but it can also still make scientific observations with one. 

Unfortunately, one of the gyros in reserve also experienced a malfunction while ground control was trying to turn it on this weekend. NASA said the “enhanced” gyro did not quite behave the way it was supposed to.

The failure of the gyro does not come as a surprise because, according to the space agency, it has been showing signs that it might be ready to retire for about a year now. Two of the gyros onboard which were similar types also previously failed. 

What Is Next For Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope will remain in safe mode while engineers in ground control perform tests and try to figure out how to get the malfunctioning gyro up and running again. An Anomaly Review Board made up of experts in the field will also convene to investigate and figure out a recovery plan. 

If the space agency fails to recover the third gyro, the Hubble Space Telescope will continue to be in operation. It will only use one of its remaining functioning gyros, which will limit its sky coverage. 

Rachel Osten, the deputy mission head of the spacecraft, shared in a tweet that the team is trying to revive one of the gyros that failed. However, if that does not work, she said that the plan has always been to just use one of the remaining gyros and keep the other one as a reserve. 

NASA has not released a projected timeline, but they are optimistic that the Hubble Space Telescope will be in normal operations soon. 

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low-Earth orbit in 1990.

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