Gyroscope trouble sees Hubble switch into 'safe mode'

Hubble space telescope fails and goes into'safe mode

The Hubble space telescope has watched the skies for nearly 30 years

According to an update from NASA, one of the telescope's gyroscopes has failed, leaving Hubble with only two working gyros. As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode with non-essential systems turned off. But now NASA has been forced to place one of it's prize assets into "safe mode" due to the malfunction of a gyroscope used to balance and navigate the $2.5 billion telescope.

The telescope was put in a safe mode for self-protection purposes, so it only performs its absolutely necessary functions, while NASA scientists are trying to solve the problem, as the BBC broadcasts and relays the Athenian News agency.

It's crucial that Hubble remain operational for at least the next few years, because its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope, has been delayed until at least 2021.

Hubble has six gyroscopes it uses to point itself and keep itself steady for observations. But only three gyros are needed for normal telescope operation with the others held in reserve.

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

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. The telescope usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but it can continue to make scientific observations with just one.

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.

The official Hubble Twitter account echoed this sentiment, tweeting that the telescope was "built with multiple redundancies", and that even though it is left with just two gyros, it can work with just one.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has had trouble with its gyroscopes before. With only one gyro Hubble is restricted in what parts of the sky it can look, because it can only rotate in one direction at a time.

"The plan has always been to drop to 1-gryo mode when two remain", Osten said in a Twitter exchange. The team is now working on getting the misbehaving gyroscope to snap out of its funk, but if it can't manage to do that the spacecraft will be brought down to a one-gyroscope mode in order to preserve longevity. If Hubble breaks down completely before that date, astronomers will be without a space telescope.

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