Hubble Space Telescope Shut Down Following Equipment Failure

The Hubble Space Telescope has been temporarily shut down by mission engineers, following the failure of a gyroscope used to orient the orbiting observatory. Researchers managing the program hope this shutdown will only be a temporary setback for the world’s best known space telescope.

NASA reports a gyroscope failed on October 5, an occurrence which was expected to happen sometime this year. However, the backup system, which mission planners considered reliable, did not come online as expected, forcing the observatory into safe mode, halting science experiments.

“Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) actively being used to point and steady the telescope failed. Safe mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation,” reports Felicia Chou, public affairs officer for NASA.

The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit.
The Hubble Space Telescope photographed during its final servicing mission on May 13, 2009. Image: NASA/ESA

Astronauts replaced all six gyroscopes aboard Hubble during the last servicing mission to the observatory in 2009. Half of those units have now failed. The remaining units are of a newer design than those that have failed, and are expected to have a longer lifespan. Although engineers prefer to operate the telescope utilizing three gyros, the 28-year-old observatory is capable of operating with only one of the guidance control mechanisms.

“Two of those enhanced gyros are currently running. Upon powering on the third enhanced gyro that had been held in reserve, analysis of spacecraft telemetry indicated that it was not performing at the level required for operations. As a result, Hubble remains in safe mode,” The Space Telescope Science Institute explained in a press release.

If the third enhanced gyro regains its ability to operate at full capacity, Hubble will be brought back online in normal mode. However, if this is not the case, the telescope will be put back into operation in a reduced mode, decreasing the amount of sky that may be observed at any given time. However, observations and the ability to analyze data should remain unaffected.

Astronomers recently announced the discovery of the first moon ever found outside the solar system, the result of data obtained by the orbiting observatory.

The Hubble Space Telescope launched in 1990, and has carried out 1.3 million observations since that time. The James Webb Space Telescope, the planned successor to Hubble which will gather more than seven times as much light as its predecessor, is scheduled for launch on March 30, 2021.

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