NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which launched into orbit around the Earth in 1990, remains one of the most powerful space observatories in service today. But it’s getting old, and as you might come to expect from aging space equipment, things fail occasionally.
Image Credit: NASA
A statement issued by the American space agency on Monday reveals how the Hubble Space Telescope was kicked into Safe Mode on Friday after one of the spacecraft’s onboard gyroscopes failed.
Just like many other spacecraft, NASA built the Hubble Space Telescope with redundancy in mind. Hubble had six gyroscopes installed on it in 2009 during a servicing mission so that it’d have backups when situations like this arose.
Until now, Hubble had already expended three of its gyroscopes. The latest gyroscope anomaly means that Hubble now only has two left; fortunately, NASA says the remaining gyroscopes were more robustly built than some of the others that failed previously.
On a typical day, the Hubble Space Telescope operates on three gyroscopes at a time. Several gyroscopes translate to more accurate positioning data, but Hubble can manage on just one gyroscope albeit less efficiently. Nevertheless, NASA says it won’t impact the space telescope’s observation capabilities.
While in Safe Mode, scientific operations involving the Hubble Space Telescope have been temporarily stopped. Hubble will resume scientific activities after NASA spacecraft engineers discern the root of the problem and ultimately decide on the best possible action to resolve it.
It’s entirely possible that NASA can salvage the failed gyroscope, which is the preferred outcome. If it can’t be rejuvenated, then NASA will resort to operating the Hubble Space Telescope in “reduced gyro” mode, which only utilizes a single gyroscope at a time.
Despite the shortcoming, NASA still expects to get several more years out of the Hubble Space Telescope; at least until its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, launches to conduct scientific observations in the infrared spectrum.
Astronomers rely on the Hubble Space Telescope for many of their observations, so downtime creates a headache for everyone in the astronomy field. It should be interesting to see how NASA will handle the situation amid the unfortunate circumstances.