October 08, 2018
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, famous for its brilliant pictures of the cosmos, is having some trouble in orbit around Earth. On Friday, an important mechanism on the spacecraft failed — one that is needed to re-orient the observatory in space and keep it pointed at parts of the sky for long periods of time. Now, Hubble is in a safe mode while engineers try to address the problem.
NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is offline after a steering component failed
The broken mechanism on Hubble is a gyroscope, or a gyro. It’s a device the many spacecraft use to change their orientation in space. Gyros are essentially wheels inside the vehicle that spin, shifting the position of the spacecraft. It’s a key tool that Hubble uses to change its direction and look at different spots of the Universe, in order to observe stars, exoplanets, supernovae, and more.
Hubble, which launched in 1990, was originally built with six gyros, and the spacecraft needs at least three of them to work in order to operate efficiently. Over the years, Hubble’s gyros have run into problems and many have failed. At one point in 1999, so many were inoperable that the telescope couldn’t perform science observations for a few weeks. But during the Space Shuttle program, astronaut crews were able to visit Hubble periodically and replace the gyros. The last Hubble servicing mission occurred in May 2009, during which all six of the gyros were replaced.
Before the Friday failure, Hubble still had four gyros functioning, NASA confirmed to The Verge. But after this most recent one quit, the Hubble team has been trying to bring one of the four back online, which had been off for a while, according to a series of tweets from Rachel Osten, the deputy mission head for Hubble at the Space Telescope Science Institute. However, this other gyro is proving “problematic,” she says. If it can’t come back online, that means Hubble is down to just two functioning gyros. It’s not ideal.
The situation isn’t cause for despair just yet. Previously, Hubble engineers figured out a way to operate the spacecraft with only two gyros in an effort to extend Hubble’s lifetime. Additionally, NASA claims that the Hubble team had expected this particular gyro to fail for about a year. If the problematic gyro doesn’t come back online, the engineers have a plan that will allow the Hubble to operate with as few as one gyro. She argues there isn’t much difference between operating with two gyros and with one gyro; both modes can still allow astronomers to observe the sky and do valuable science work.
Ultimately, getting that gyro up and running would be the best-case scenario here. And time is crucial, because Hubble can’t do any science while in safe mode. During this time, all of the spacecraft’s instruments are shut down, while only the most essential systems needed to keep the vehicle running remain on.
Still, it’s not quite the end for Hubble just yet. This spacecraft has overcome worse situations in the past; when the observatory first launched, engineers soon realized that the spacecraft’s primary mirror had a flaw that prevented the telescope from getting the sharp images it was designed to capture. Although the mirror was ultimately replaced, for three years Hubble was unable to capture the sharp, amazing pictures that it’s now known for.
Today, there aren’t any options to replace failed hardware on Hubble. The telescope was designed to be serviced by crews on the Space Shuttle, and there aren’t any vehicles currently available that could bring astronauts to the observatory and fix it in orbit. Some have considered sending robotic spacecraft to service Hubble, but none have panned out, with some plans determined unfeasible. Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump administration was considering a plan to send a crew to Hubble on a commercial spacecraft called Dream Chaser being developed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation. However, such a flight has not been officially acknowledged and there hasn’t been any update since the original WSJ report.
Unless a concrete plan is made to send a new spacecraft to Hubble to fix it, the telescope will eventually become inoperable if all of its gyroscopes fail. And even if they remain active, Hubble is coming down eventually. The telescope orbits high up, around 350 miles up, but its path decays over time thanks to small particles from the Earth’s upper atmosphere that bombard the spacecraft and drag it down toward our planet. Additionally, Hubble doesn’t have any onboard thrusters either, so it can’t boost itself to a higher orbit. Most models show Hubble coming back to Earth naturally in the 2030s, according to Space.com. It’s a tad concerning since its primary mirror could survive re-entry, though most of it will likely burn up harmlessly.
NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is offline after a steering component failed
But rather than let it fall on its own, NASA does have the option to guide Hubble’s descent to a safe area over Earth — perhaps over the ocean. During the last Hubble servicing mission, astronauts installed a mechanism on the spacecraft that could allow future vehicles — crewed or uncrewed — to meet up with the telescope and dock with it. Those vehicles could then potentially drag Hubble out of orbit, sending it on a fiery dive through Earth’s atmosphere where it doesn’t have the possibility of harming anyone. No plans have been made for this de-orbit, however.
As Hubble nears the end of its life, NASA is working to get the telescope’s successor into space. In 2021, the space agency plans to launch a new giant observatory called the James Webb Space Telescope. While the spacecraft has run into numerous delays and cost overruns, the JWST will be even more powerful than Hubble when it launches, capable of observing galaxies and stars that formed shortly after the Big Bang. However, JWST will sit about 1 million miles from Earth and there are no plans to service the telescope once it’s in space. If something breaks on JWST, engineers will need to fix it from Earth (if possible).
In the meantime, Hubble still should have some valuable observational time left. The telescope is known for many groundbreaking discoveries. It’s helped astronomers figure out just how fast our Universe is expanding, and it’s captured images of planets outside our Solar System. Hopefully, there is still quite a bit more science to come from Hubble, once it exits safe mode.
Related Stories
Latest News
Top news around the world
Russo-Ukrainian War

The Russo-Ukrainian War has been ongoing between Russia and Ukraine since February 2014.

Russia's war in Ukraine has proven almost every assumption wrong, with Europe now wondering what left is safe to assume.

Around the World

Celebrity News

> Latest News in Media

Watch It
Madonna’s most bizarre TikTok and Instagram videos of 2022 | Page Six Celebrity News
December 30, 2022
Ggk_RlohXuI
Teresa Giudice and Luis Ruelas stand by sex multiple times a day: It’s ‘normal’ | Page Six
December 30, 2022
AljKbtgRGnc
Lisa Hochstein shared video confronting Lenny Hochstein & girlfriend at Miami club #shorts | PageSix
December 30, 2022
j_JVk60r6EI
'Channel 5' Creator Andrew Callaghan Talks BTS of 'This Place Rules' Documentary Feature
December 30, 2022
dJit_YG5fjg
#brendanfraser on getting jacked to play 'George of the Jungle' after 'Airheads" with #adamsandler
December 30, 2022
bkwreE4eMRQ
Selena Gomez, Ryan Gosling and Julia Fox Top the List Of Variety's Best Red Carpet Moments Of 2022
December 29, 2022
pv2A-331cLg
Wiz Khalifa Joins Neek Bucks For Upcoming 'Shot Caller' Video | TMZ
December 26, 2022
TxkRr1jj-gk
Andrew Zimmern Says TikTok Recipes Need to Stop This Holiday Season | TMZ
December 26, 2022
DdlO88KfJoY
Top 7 WTF Moments of 2022 | TMZ
December 26, 2022
3JA-5abr6A4
Most HIGHLY ANTICIPATED Movies of 2023 | E! News
January 01, 2023
3-1K1VSRjys
22 Pop Culture Moments That Defined 2022: Link in Comments! #shorts | E! News
December 31, 2022
MNnChuudoSA
Suspect Charged With Murder in Idaho College Killings | E! News
December 31, 2022
aeonRlI5xL0
TV Schedule
Late Night Show
Watch the latest shows of U.S. top comedians

Sports

Latest sport results, news, videos, interviews and comments
Latest Events
01
Jan
ENGLAND: Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur - Aston Villa
01
Jan
ENGLAND: Premier League
Nottingham Forest - Chelsea
01
Jan
ENGLAND: Championship
Coventry - Bristol City
01
Jan
ENGLAND: Championship
Blackburn - Cardiff City
01
Jan
ENGLAND: Championship
Huddersfield - Luton
01
Jan
ENGLAND: Championship
Millwall - Rotherham
01
Jan
ENGLAND: Championship
Blackpool - Sunderland
31
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester City - Everton
31
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Wolves - Manchester United
31
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Brighton - Arsenal
31
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Barcelona - Espanyol
31
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Real Sociedad - Osasuna
31
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Bournemouth - Crystal Palace
31
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Newcastle United - Leeds
31
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Fulham - Southampton
31
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Villarreal - Valencia
30
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Real Valladolid - Real Madrid
30
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Liverpool - Leicester City
30
Dec
ENGLAND: Championship
Birmingham - Hull City
30
Dec
ENGLAND: Championship
Stoke City - Burnley
30
Dec
ENGLAND: Championship
Norwich City - Reading
30
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
West Ham United - Brentford
30
Dec
ENGLAND: Championship
Swansea City - Watford
30
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Celta Vigo - Sevilla
30
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Cadiz - Almeria
30
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Getafe - Mallorca
29
Dec
SPAIN: La Liga
Atletico Madrid - Elche
29
Dec
ENGLAND: Championship
West Bromwich Albion - Preston NE
29
Dec
ENGLAND: Championship
Blackpool - Sheffield United
28
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Leeds - Manchester City
27
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Manchester United - Nottingham Forest
27
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Chelsea - Bournemouth
26
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Arsenal - West Ham United
26
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Brentford - Tottenham Hotspur
26
Dec
ENGLAND: Premier League
Aston Villa - Liverpool
Find us on Instagram
at @feedimo to stay up to date with the latest.
Featured Video You Might Like
zWJ3MxW_HWA L1eLanNeZKg i1XRgbyUtOo -g9Qziqbif8 0vmRhiLHE2U JFCZUoa6MYE UfN5PCF5EUo 2PV55f3-UAg W3y9zuI_F64 -7qCxIccihU pQ9gcOoH9R8 g5MRDEXRk4k
Copyright © 2020 Feedimo. All Rights Reserved.