Hubble in 'safe mode', but science operations suspended

Pablo Tucker
October 12, 2018

"Another gyro failed. First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic", Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said via Twitter Sunday, in response to tweeted questions and comments about the gyroscope's rumored failure.

The telescope is known to be nearing the end of its active life, with the James Webb Space Telescope - now scheduled for launch no earlier than 2021 - slated to be its successor.

Gyroscopes are needed to keep Hubble pointed in the right direction during observations.

Launched aboard the shuttle Discovery in April 1990, Hubble is one of the most scientifically productive spacecraft ever built, generating a steady stream of astronomical discoveries and iconic photos familiar to millions around the world. That gyro, which had been powered down, is not "performing at the level required for operations", according to spacecraft telemetry after it was commanded to turn on. All three are of a similar design, and NASA said it was not surprised that this third gyro failed. Now a plan is being drawn up to return to 3-gyro operations, but if that doesn't work out then it will continue in a reduced gyro mode that only uses one. Three of them are now considered unusable.


"Hubble's instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come", NASA added.

"So we turned it on as planned and the gyro was not reading the rates the way it should", Sembach said. Until the problem has been fixed, the telescope has been put into 'safe mode, ' suspending its scientific experiments.

As Space.com reports, the Hubble requires a trio of gyroscopes to operate at its optimal capacity.

The failed gyro-used to point and steady the telescope-was an inevitability, according to NASA. There is a third gyro that might be able to work, but last time NASA tested it there were some issues.


Although NASA revealed the telescope's gyroscope failure, it didn't disclose very many other details.

"Obviously, we don't want to make things worse", he said.

For now, Hubble's still the star of the show, so let's hope it can pull through. NASA assures that there will be a relatively limited impact on overall scientific capabilities in this mode, though acknowledges there will also be less sky coverage at any particular time.


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