The Hubble space telescope, which has been in orbit since 1990, has temporarily suspended operations because of a gyroscope failure, the United States space agency said Monday. But when the third one was powered up, it wasn't operating as it should be, so NASA Goddard engineers placed the telescope in safe mode while they try to figure out the problem. "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".
Hubble was built with six gyroscopes created to keep the telescope pointed the same way for long periods of time.
Now one of the remaining three isn't working as expected, leaving Hubble with just two working gyros and it needs at least three for optimal operations. Thus, each problem brings the telescope, one of the most famous and productive observatories in the history of astronomy, one step closer to its eventual end.
One newspaper quoted Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said: "It's true". "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.
Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed in 2009; it usually uses three at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make observations with as few as one.
Since its launch, the space telescope has made over 163,500 trips around Earth, more than 1.5 million observations of over 43,500 celestial objects and generated 153 terabytes of data, as per cnet.com.
Launched into deep space in 1990, the large, long orbit telescope is packed with instruments like cameras, spectrographs and interferometers to clear up mysteries of the universe.
"We'll work through the issues and be back", she promised.
NASA became aware of the issue last Friday when a gyro, already displaying "end of life" behavior, went out of action. Astronomers are aiming to prolong Hubble's life, but losing another gyroscope makes life hard.
If not, the spacecraft will simply move on, running a "reduced-gyro" mode that uses only one spinning wheel.
"That doesn't mean we can't see the whole sky at some time during the year, we can", Sembach said.
"The plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain".
The instrument, named after astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, has been celebrated for its involvement in tracking asteroids, analysing the Kuiper Belt and documenting the nebula of dying stars.