Hubble Is in Safe Mode After Another Gyroscope Failure

The Hubble Space Telescope has shut down and gone into protective "safe mode" after one of the gyroscopes which keep it in place failed on Sunday, team members said. The team is now working on getting the misbehaving gyroscope to snap out of its funk, but if it can't manage to do that the spacecraft will be brought down to a one-gyroscope mode in order to preserve longevity.

Even with one gyro working, Hubble will still be able to take part in science, NASA confirmed.

Hubble is equipped with six gyroscopes, but it's been operating with only three active gyros. Each one spins at 19,200 rpm inside a sealed chamber of high viscosity fluid. Gyroscopes use the principle of angular momentum to track movements, which allows the satellite to ensure it's pointed in the right direction.

To operate optimally, Hubble needs three operational gyroscopes. The failure over the weekend took the telescope down to just two. Scientists are working to bring another sleeping gyro online to restore full functionality, but it's not working.

The troublesome gyroscope leaves two functioning ones, Space.com reports.

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Hubble has six gyroscopes, all of which were replaced by spacewalking astronauts during a servicing mission in May 2009. Three of the gyroscopes were the same type already installed at the time, and three of them were a new design meant to last longer. It's worth nothing that the gyroscope failure wasn't unexpected; the problem is how to deal with it. If the backup gyroscope doesn't start working again, Hubble will never be quite the same.

"It's not a hard decision, @astrogrant: the plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain".

The Space Telescope Science Institute's deputy mission head, Dr. Rachel Osten, said the first move "is to try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic".

Hubble's primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long - the length of a large school bus.

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