NASA Hubble Space Telescope grapples with new mechanical failure

Space										
		
																	There’s something wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope					
								
			
	
		Mike Wehner			@MikeWehner

While the telescope is not expected to be at risk of being permanently out of order, two of the four gyroscopes used to direct the telescope towards its targets in the sky have failed. Astronomers are aiming to prolong Hubble's life, but losing another gyroscope makes life hard. The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's powerful successor (at least, in the infrared regime), is now set to launch in 2021. As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode with non-essential systems turned off.

The largest space telescope Hubble has failed due to breakage.

Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the Hubble team is optimistic the problem can be resolved.

That left three of the enhanced gyros-but one of those that had been used as a backup showed "an anomaly in its rate output" preventing it from being used to point the telescope, according to Felicia Chou, a NASA spokeswoman.

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The remaining three are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives.

One of the standard gyros failed, making all three of the standard variety unusable, according to the space agency. "Everybody said OK, no big surprise, we've been expecting that for a year, let's turn on the gyro that was off at the time to get back onto science operations".

Bottom line: The Hubble Space Telescope has been in safe mode since last Friday evening, following the failure of one of the gyros that helps stabilize it. NASA is analyzing the problem and hopes to resume operations soon.

"We knew it was coming", Osten added.

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Indeed, one of the tasks of the last mission in May 2009 was to install six new gyros, three of them redundant enhanced models, in a bid to extend Hubble's operating life. There is a third gyro that might be able to work, but last time NASA tested it there were some issues.

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.

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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