Hubble Space Telescope Returns to Action After Gyroscope Glitch

An image of the spiral galaxy NGC 5033 located about 40 million light-years away captured by Hubble Space Telescope

An image of the spiral galaxy NGC 5033 located about 40 million light-years away captured by Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope is back from the dead more than three tense weeks after it suffered an operational breakdown while carrying out its mission to study and record the distant stars and galaxies of the universe.

The Hubble Space Telescope returned to normal operations with three fully functional gyroscopes late Friday and completed its first science observations on Saturday, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said. But Chandra bounced back last Sunday (Oct. 21), after its handlers established a new gyroscope configuration.

When one of Hubble's gyros failed, mission scientists brought a spare into operation - but when powered up, something caused the spare gyro to spin too fast. The instrument is responsible for stabilizing and pointing the telescope to a certain direction for long periods of observation.

A gyroscope is a device that measures the speed at which the spacecraft is turning, which is necessary to help Hubble turn and lock on to new targets.

NASA also notes that the Hubble team has installed additional safeguards on the telescope in case the excessive rate values return. The spacecraft was placed in safe mode when one of the remaining three gyroscopes, turned on after having been held in reserve, reported rates far higher than actual ones.

The team wasn't done there, though.

"Late Friday, the team began the process to restore the scientific instruments to standard operating status", the space agency added. The science operations are the direct result of the recovering of the backup gyro, that recovery involved a series of twists and turns for the Hubble that was able to clear up issues with the backup gyro. "Hubble successfully completed maneuvers to get on target for the first science observations, and the telescope collected its first science data since October 5".

Astroboffins the world over drew a collective sigh of relief to hear that the Hubble Space Telescope has been formally returned to service.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has had trouble with its gyroscopes before. The last of these, in May 2009, featured the replacement of all six gyroscopes.

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