Hubble Space Telescope Enters Safe Mode After Gyro Failure

The Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA

Update – October 8, 2018: NASA has released a statement about the situation with Hubble.

“NASA is working to resume science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope after the spacecraft entered safe mode on Friday, October 5, shortly after 6:00 p.m. EDT. Hubble’s instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come.

Hubble entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) actively being used to point and steady the telescope failed. Safe mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation.

Built with multiple redundancies, Hubble had six new gyros installed during Servicing Mission-4 in 2009. Hubble usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make scientific observations with just one.

The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected; two other gyros of the same type had already failed. The remaining three gyros available for use are technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives.

Two of those enhanced gyros are currently running. Upon powering on the third enhanced gyro that had been held in reserve, analysis of spacecraft telemetry indicated that it was not performing at the level required for operations. As a result, Hubble remains in safe mode. Staff at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options are available  to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Science operations with Hubble have been suspended while NASA investigates the anomaly. An Anomaly Review Board, including experts from the Hubble team and industry familiar with the design and performance of this type of gyro, is being formed to investigate this issue and develop the recovery plan. If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration.   

If the outcome indicates that the gyro is not usable, Hubble will resume science operations in an already defined “reduced-gyro” mode that uses only one gyro. While reduced-gyro mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is relatively limited impact on the overall scientific capabilities.”

Original report – October 7, 2018:

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has entered safe mode (a kind of protective hibernation); this comes after rumors started circulating that something was wrong with the telescope which could put it out of commission for “weeks.”

Right now, not a lot of information is known, but Dr. Rachel Osten, Deputy Mission Head for the mission, did confirm the rumors in a tweet this evening (Oct. 7). The problem seems to involve another malfunctioning gyro; the gyros are used to help keep the telescope stabilized in its orbit:

In some other tweets however, she did state that the situation isn’t really as “scary” as people might think, and the problem had been anticipated and is being worked on:

Hubble was launched in 1990 and has been returning thousands of incredible phots and other data ever since. It is the only space telescope designed to be serviced by astronauts, but that hasn’t been an option since the end of the Space Shuttle program. NASA’s next space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, is scheduled to be launched in March 2021.

So at the moment, it would that the problem is significant, but is being worked, with expectations of a recovery. Stay tuned to AmericaSpace for the latest updates as more information becomes available.



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