The Hubble space telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990, has temporarily suspended operations because of a gyroscope failure, the USA space agency said Monday. As a result, NASA put Hubble into a safe-point mode.
Hubble normally uses three gyroscopes to function, but could get by with one or two, something it's done before. It is expected to return to its normal operations after ground control performs analyses and tests. "Hubble's instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come".
But when the telescope's operators switched the instrument to running on all three enhanced gyroscopes, one wasn't working quite as well as it should have been.
If the outcome indicates that the gyroscope is not usable, Hubble will resume science operations in an already defined "reduced-gyro" mode that uses only one. The Hubble Space Telescope also uses three gyroscopes at a time for "maximum efficiency", but it can also still make scientific observations with one.
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. The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's powerful successor (at least, in the infrared regime), is now set to launch in 2021. Astronomers are aiming to prolong Hubble's life, but losing another gyroscope makes life hard.
The official Hubble Twitter account echoed this sentiment, tweeting that the telescope was "built with multiple redundancies", and that even though it is left with just two gyros, it can work with just one.
She explained that there are plans in place to deal with the eventuality of the HST dropping down to a one-gyro mode when two remained. As per NASA the gyro that was unsuccessful last week had been manifesting end of life performance for a time span of a year and its collapse was not unanticipated.
Three of the gyros are older models that have a history of trouble after 50,000 hours or so of service.
Though the space telescope remains in operation, the malfunction highlights the limited time Hubble has remaining.
It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.