Hubble space telescope goes into 'safe mode' over faulty gyroscope

IN SPACE In this handout from the National Aeronautical Space Administration, the Hubble Space Telescope drifts through space in

Image The Hubble Space Telescope is currently operating in safe mode

NASA announced Monday that one of Hubble's gyroscopes failed last Friday.

Osten also noted that the team has had a "very stressful weekend" and that the Hubble is now "in safe mode while we figure out what to do".

Hubble normally uses three gyroscopes to function, but could get by with one or two, something it's done before. This mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation.

Till then science operations with Hubble have been suspended.

But don't panic: while the telescope needs three gyroscopes for "optimal efficiency", it can operate with less, reported.

"Three of them were on and one was off", Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University, told CBS News.

Dr. Rachel Osten, the deputy head of the Hubble mission, said it had been a "very stressful weekend".

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While NASA says that reduced-gyro mode would have "relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities", some astronomers are concerned that the reduced-gyro mode could adversely affect some types of observations, such as of solar system objects, that require the precision of three-gyro operations.

More than 30 astronauts have flown to Hubble to deploy, upgrade and fix the observatory with the support of a human spaceflight and space shuttle staff. Thousands of astronomers from dozens of countries have used Hubble and analyzed its data to produce more than 15,000 peer reviewed papers to date. The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's powerful successor (at least, in the infrared regime), is now set to launch in 2021. "So, there's been a great hope in the astronomical community that Hubble could continue doing that sort of science even when James Webb was launched". There are three gyros of the older generation with a history of showing signs of malfunction after 50,000 hours of service. This past Friday night, Hubble was operating normally with two newer gyros and one older model.

We know that the unit has a total of six gyroscopes, because it was designed with multiple redundancy of all systems.

Two of those enhanced gyros are now running.

NASA has convened an anomaly review board to investigate the issue with the enhanced gyro.

"That doesn't mean we can't see the whole sky at some time during the year, we can", Sembach said. If Hubble breaks down completely before that date, astronomers will be without a space telescope.

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