Hubble Space Telescope sidelined by gyroscope problem

11 Octobre, 2018, 03:26 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Hubble in trouble as telescope ‘suffers failure and goes into safe mode’

The Hubble Space Telescope stopped collecting science data on 5 October, because of a problem with one of the gyroscopes that the observatory uses to orient itself on celestial targets.

In a series of tweets and a press release, the space agency revealed that one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) that is now in use failed.

"While reduced-gyro mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is the relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities", NASA said.

The Space Telescope Science Institute's deputy mission head, Dr. Rachel Osten, said the first move "is to try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic".

Osten described the current situation as "not really scary".

'The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would (almost pulled the plug on it back in the spring). "We'll work through the issues and be back", Osten added in another tweet.

That was unfortunate, as the telescope requires at least three functional gyroscopes for optimal use.

"I don't think anybody is worried-worried that the mission, say, is coming to an end, because it's not".

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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.

Hubble has six gyroscopes, all of which were replaced by spacewalking astronauts during a servicing mission in May 2009.

Hubble is now down to two working gyros and needs at least three for optimal operations. That would permit one of the two gyros to be turned off, preserving its life until it's needed when the other fails.

While optimistic the problem can be resolved, he said Hubble can operate in near-normal fashion with just one gyroscope if worse comes to worse, although it would be more hard to track fast-moving targets.

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.

Even with one gyro working, Hubble will still be able to take part in science, NASA confirmed. "If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration", the agency stated.

If it eventually comes to that, the plan would be to skip the two-gyro mode and go directly to single-gyro control to preserve the life of the remaining unit.

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