The Hubble Space Telescope has experienced a problem with its hardware and is currently in safe mode, with science operations halted until the fault can be fixed. The problem is with one of the telescope’s three operational gyros, which are used to control the direction the telescope is pointing. When such a malfunction is detected, the telescope automatically goes into a safe mode in which it performs only essential operations to prevent any damage to its hardware.
“The telescope automatically went into safe mode when one of its three gyroscopes gave a faulty reading,” NASA wrote in a statement. “Gyrs measure the turn rate of the telescope and are part of the system that determines which direction the telescope is pointing. While in safe mode, science operations are suspended, and the telescope waits for new directions from the ground.
The telescope briefly went into safe mode when the failure was discovered on November 19, but engineers were able to restart it the next day. However, the gyro continued to malfunction and the same occurred on 21 November and 23 November. Since then, the telescope has been in safe mode while engineers work on fixing the problem.
Although none of the problems with the telescope hardware are major, the problem is not life-threatening. NASA says Hubble could operate with only one of its gyros if necessary, though this would require reprogramming and would be less efficient than using all three, so it would be better to fix the faulty one. . The gyros were installed during a servicing mission in 2009, and originally there were six of them. Now, three of them are operational.
The servicing missions were necessary because when Hubble was launched in 1990, a small fault in its primary mirror caused the images sent to Earth to be blurry. A series of Space Shuttle missions between 1993 and 2009 took astronauts to the telescope, during which time they made adjustments and repairs to keep the telescope operational. Hubble has been active for more than three decades now.
Today, December 2, marks the 30th anniversary of the first of these servicing missions, when a crew of seven worked to install a new camera and other components that transformed Hubble’s images from blurry spots to those beautiful images. Gave which we see even today.