Hubble gyroscope failure puts space telescope into safe mode

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As a result, NASA put Hubble into a safe-point mode. NASA's 28-year-old eye on the cosmos is in safe mode after the failure of a gyroscope used to help aim the telescope at its imaging targets.

The six gyros on the Hubble were replaced in 2009 during the final servicing mission to the instrument by NASA's space shuttle.

Astronaut's photo of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

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. Very stressful weekend. Right now HST is in safe mode while we figure out what to do.

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"The first step is to try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic", Osten said on Twitter.

Rachel Osten, deputy mission head for Hubble with the Space Telescope Science Institute, has dropped a few more details about the problem on Twitter. Assuming the team can rescue the malfunctioning gyroscope, Hubble will resume operations in its standard three-gyro configuration.

Redundancy is NASA's best friend, and so it is with the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA stands ready for failures with backups, and even in some cases, improved backup equipment.

The current fault had been anticipated because the gyroscope had been "exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year", according to NASA.

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Launched in 1990, Hubble has had trouble with its gyroscopes before.

Should engineers conclude that the enhanced gyro can't be used, leaving only two, controllers plan to shift to an alternative mode that allows the spacecraft to operate with just a single gyro. These six gyroscopes were replaced during a 2009 fix mission to the telescope. In particular, the telescope's gyros have often failed in the past, so having one fail now is not unexpected. "The fact that we're having some gyro problems, that's kind of a long tradition with the observatory".

"That doesn't mean we can't see the whole sky at some time during the year, we can", Sembach said.

One of the telescope's most famous images is a portion of the Eagle Nebula, known as the "Pillars of Creation", which shows three columns of cold gas illuminated by light from a cluster of young stars. Hubble usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make scientific observations with just one.

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It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.