Trouble for Hubble: gyro fails on space telescope

A handout photo released by the European Spce Agency on July 26, 2018 shows the recent observations of the planets Mars and Saturn made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
The observations of both objects were made in June and July 2018 and show the planets close to their opposition. Hubble’s high-resolution images of the planets and moons in our Solar System can only be surpassed by pictures taken from spacecraft that actually visit them. Hubble even has one advantage over these probes: it can look at these objects periodically and observe them over much longer periods than any passing probe could. Hubble’s first observations of Mars date back as far 1991 and the first observation of Saturn was performed in 1990 — the year Hubble was launched. / AFP PHOTO

WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — The Hubble space telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990, has temporarily suspended operations because of a gyroscope failure, the US space agency said Monday.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said Hubble went into “safe mode” on Friday.

“Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes actively being used to point and steady the telescope failed,” NASA said in a statement.

“Safe mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation,” it said.

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

Hubble is equipped with six gyroscopes to orient the telescope.

Hubble is currently down to two working gyros and needs at least three for optimal operations. But it can continue to provide observations with just one functioning gyroscope.

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

“First step is to try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic,” Osten said on Twitter.

NASA said staff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute were conducting tests and analysis to get the gyro working again.

NASA said if they are unable to recover the malfunctioning gyro Hubble will resume science operations using just one device.

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

Hubble has made numerous outstanding observations of the cosmos since it was deployed in 1990.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, is scheduled to be launched in March 2021.

© Agence France-Presse