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Hubble Overcomes Gyro Failure, Pursues New Discoveries

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope will continue to make groundbreaking science observations well into the 2030s, even with a failed gyroscope. This billion-dollar telescope, billed as a beacon for space exploration more than three decades ago, is operating now in one-gyro mode: a control mode backup that will limit some observations but will keep the observatory running.

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The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and proved to be of crucial assistance to astronomers. It allowed humanity to see the best view of the Universe in the visible light spectral range. The telescope itself, however, has not been functioning correctly, a third of its six gyroscopes have failed, which are crucial for pointing and locking onto targets.

Nevertheless, NASA does not seem very apprehensive about Hubble’s future. “We still believe there’s very high reliability and likelihood that we can operate Hubble very successfully, doing groundbreaking science, through the rest of the 20s and into the 2030s,” said Patrick Crouse, the Hubble project manager.

It worked out a transition to one-gyro mode, a contingency plan devised 20 years ago, to bypass this lingering glitch. In that mode, magnetometers, sun sensors, and star trackers replace the failed gyros. But it has its limitations. “The observatory will need more time to slew and lock onto a science target and won’t have as much flexibility as to where it can observe at any given time,” NASA explained.

Even with these problems, NASA Astrophysics Division director Mark Clampin says he is confident the Hubble will continue to make major contributions to science. “I don’t actually see this as a major distraction on its ability to do important science,” Clampin said.

Also dismissed, at least for the foreseeable future, is another proposed commercial mission that would boost Hubble to a higher altitude. The flight was pitched by SpaceX and Crew Dragon veteran Jared Isaacman, to give an orbiting observatory a new lease on life. NASA officials said in a briefing that for now, Hubble’s in no danger of falling back down to Earth, with calculations showing the observatory will stay aloft through at least 2035 on its own.

Certainly, the Hubble Space Telescope is advanced in age and has several technical problems, but notwithstanding, it still can be extremely useful to astronomers. Teamed with the much newer James Webb Space Telescope, this duo offers very interesting new insights into the nature of the Universe. As project manager Patrick Crouse put it, “We do not see Hubble being on its last legs.”

More for you:

  • Gyro failure? No sweat, says NASA; Hubble Space Telescope still up to world-class science
  • The Hubble Space Telescope has lost a majority of its gyroscopes.
  • Hubble Hangs On As NASA Makes Big Change To Telescope Operations

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