Trouble in Space: Hubble Enters Safe Mode
On October 8, NASA confirmed that the Hubble Space Telescope was forced to enter safe mode last Friday. Launched by NASA in 1990, the Hubble is one of the most important instruments used by astronomers to gather information about the universe.
The Hubble is equipped with six gyroscopes (gyros) but only needs to run on three for top performance. Last Friday, one of the gyros used to direct and balance the telescope failed. To counter this, the scientists switched to one of the newer more efficient gyroscopes as a backup. In their official statement, NASA claims that three of the gyros available for use were “technically enhanced and therefore expected to have significantly longer operational lives.” However, one of the backup gyroscopes did not perform as expected, and Hubble was left with only two.
If the faulty gyroscope cannot be fixed soon, Hubble will run on only one gyroscope in order to conserve the energy of the other. Dr Rachel Osten, the deputy mission head for the Hubble Telescope, tweets “We knew it was coming. The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would.” NASA will keep the telescope in safe mode until a solution is discovered.
Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is nowhere close to being ready to step in. The JWST is expected to exceed the Hubble in many functions, but there have been multiple delays in both its construction and testing. The current projected launch date for the JWST is not until 2021. In the meantime, NASA will try to keep the Hubble running for as long as possible, perhaps even past the 2021 launch date.