Hubble Telescope in Safe Mode, Issues Being Diagnosed

Hubble Telescope in Safe Mode, Issues Being Diagnosed

And the Kepler space telescope, which has discovered about 70 percent of the confirmed 3,800 exoplanets to date, is running so low on fuel that its handlers recently shut it off, to make sure it has enough propellant left to orient itself toward Earth and beam its latest data haul back to Earth next week.

Osten also noted that the team has had a "very stressful weekend" and that the Hubble is now "in safe mode while we figure out what to do".

NASA announced Monday that one of Hubble's gyroscopes failed last Friday.

The Register first noticed a questionmark over Hubble's health during the weekend, when Michigan State University astronomer Jay Strader tweeted rumours that it was in safe mode "following a gyro failure". The device refused one of the three gyroscopes, which is used for aiming a telescope at the target and hold it in a fixed position. Thus, at this time, Hubble has two functional gyroscopes.

In the wake of the fifth and final space shuttle servicing mission in 2009, two of the older-generation gyros failed, one at a time, leaving Hubble with just four operational units.

"*IF* the third doesn't spin back up, I wouldn't be surprised if they drop to 1 gyro mode, keeping the second as reserve".

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"The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected", the agency said in its statement.

After the recent mechanical failure, controllers have tried to switch to a different gyroscope, but that was found to be malfunctioning. Ideally, Hubble would use three of them simultaneously "for maximum efficiency", but it can continue making observations with one, the agency said in another tweet.

Although NASA revealed the telescope's gyroscope failure, it didn't disclose very many other details.

"Hubble's instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come", NASA added. The space shuttle Atlantis' mission is to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope in order to extend its working life. Although science operations are expected to resume fairly soon, the current issues raise concerns about the future of the invaluable scientific instrument.

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. That gyro, which had been powered down, is not "performing at the level required for operations", according to spacecraft telemetry after it was commanded to turn on.

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