In Space

Space Image

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Operations Suspended Due To Gyro Issue

NASA iconic space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope has suspended science operations and is in safe mode due to a problem with one of its three operational gyroscopes.

  • More details coming soon...
Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Dec 05 2023Written by Zac Aubert

NASA iconic space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope has suspended science operations and is in safe mode due to a problem with one of its three operational gyroscopes.

On November 19th one of Hubble's three gyroscopes triggered a safe mode after it began producing faulty readings. Spacecraft controllers successfully resolved the error on the telescope, allowing it to resume observations on the next day.

However, the persistent issue with the malfunctioning gyro prompted Hubble to suspend science operations once more on November 21. Despite a subsequent successful recovery, Hubble entered safe mode again on November 23, initiating a comprehensive investigation into the underlying problem.

While the telescope's instruments remain stable and it is in good health, the agency's operations team is diligently working to identify and rectify the problem that has intermittently plagued Hubble's recent observations.

Gyroscopes play a crucial role in measuring the telescope's turn rates and are integral to determining its pointing direction. During safe mode, all science operations are temporarily halted as the telescope awaits instructions from ground control.

NASA's is now conducting tests to characterize the gyro issue and devise effective solutions. Should it be necessary, the spacecraft can be re-configured to operate with only one gyro, though Hubble ideally utilizes three gyros for optimal efficiency. During the fifth and final space shuttle servicing mission in 2009 Hubble was equipped with six new gyros; three of these gyros, including the one currently experiencing fluctuations, remain operational.

Future Hubble Repair/Upgrade Mission?

With Hubble having experienced more issues over last few years and its importance to making these discoveries NASA is considering a mission to boost the telescope to prolong its life but also possibly a repair/upgrade mission.

In September 2022, a study was announced involving Isaacman, SpaceX, and NASA to explore the feasibility of a private mission to enhance and potentially repair the Hubble Space Telescope using SpaceX's Crew Dragon. This mission was considered as the second in a series of three planned Polaris missions. The study, conducted through an unfunded Space Act Agreement, was completed earlier this year. However, as of now, neither NASA nor SpaceX has disclosed any information about the study's findings or the subsequent actions to be taken.

Jared Isaacman, the billionaire backing the Polaris program took to social media after news of Hubble being in safe mode again saying “Put us in coach,”

SpaceX is not the sole contender for servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. In December of 2022, NASA issued a request for information, inviting concepts from commercial entities for missions to reboost Hubble. NASA clarified that it would not provide funding for such a mission, viewing it as an opportunity for companies to showcase their satellite servicing capabilities. Eight responses were received, with one coming from satellite servicing firm Astroscale in collaboration with in-space transportation company Momentus. NASA acknowledged the responses and expressed its intent to evaluate them, although no specific timeline for the review was provided.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has been an indispensable tool for astronomers, capturing stunning images and providing crucial data for over 33 years. Despite the recent setbacks, NASA has expressed confidence in Hubble's ability to continue to contribute to groundbreaking discoveries and collaborate with other observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, throughout the current decade and potentially into the next.