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Gyroscope malfunction forces Hubble Space Telescopes into safe mode

All six of Hubble's gyroscopes were replaced by space station astronauts during a servicing mission in 2009, but only two of those are now functioning properly.

By Brooks Hays
The Hubble Space Telescope is in safe mode after one of its gyroscopes failed. Photo by NASA/ESA
The Hubble Space Telescope is in safe mode after one of its gyroscopes failed. Photo by NASA/ESA

Oct. 8 (UPI) -- The Hubble Space telescope is currently in safe mode. Engineers were forced to suspend the telescopes' scientific activities over the weekend after one of its gyroscope's failed.

In a series of tweets, Rachel Osten, deputy mission head for the Hubble Space Telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute, confirmed the problem.

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"Right now HST is in safe mode while we figure out what to do," Osten wrote. "Another gyro failed. First step is try to bring back the last gyro, which had been off, and is being problematic."

Officials at NASA and ESA, which co-manage the space telescopes, have yet to comment. According to the telescope's activity log, Hubble conducted "no scheduled observations" on Sunday.

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Normally, Hubble requires three gyroscopes to stabilize its orientation and function properly. However, Hubble can operate in a limited capacity using a single gyroscope.

All six of Hubble's gyroscopes were replaced by space station astronauts during a servicing mission in 2009, but only two of those are now functioning properly.

If the problematic gyroscope can't be successfully brought back online -- and if the most recent failure proves permanent -- Hubble may be forced to operate on a single gyroscope for the foreseeable future.

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"The plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain. There isn't much difference between 2 and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time. Which the Astro community wants desperately," Osten tweeted.

Astronomers are anxiously awaiting the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for 2021, but until then Hubble remains the most powerful space telescope in the sky -- and the best tool for peering deep into space.

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