The Hubble Space Telescope is broken

IN SPACE In this handout from the National Aeronautical Space Administration, the Hubble Space Telescope drifts through space in

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. As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode with non-essential systems turned off.

Hubble was built with six gyroscopes created to keep the telescope pointed the same way for long periods of time. But only three gyros are needed for normal telescope operation with the others held in reserve.

If the new fault fails to be restored, the telescope will be left with two gyroscopes, which will limit its functionality. Very stressful weekend. Right now HST is in safe mode while we figure out what to do.

One newspaper quoted Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said: "It's true".

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Hubble is now down to two working gyroscopes and needs at least three for optimal operations but it can continue to provide observations with just one functioning gyroscope.

Launched aboard the shuttle Discovery in April 1990, Hubble is one of the most scientifically productive spacecraft ever built, generating a steady stream of astronomical discoveries and iconic photos familiar to millions around the world. The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble's powerful successor (at least, in the infrared regime), is now set to launch in 2021. According to NASA, the gyro that failed last week had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for about a year, and its failure was not unexpected.

The 28-year-old telescope has had trouble with its gyroscopes before.

The solution. NASA has three backup gyros that are more advanced technically and will hope to have longer lives.

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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. There is a third gyro that might be able to work, but last time NASA tested it there were some issues. Two of Hubble's other gyros of the same type have already failed. Hubble usually uses three gyros at a time for maximum efficiency, but can continue to make scientific observations with just one.

But that doesn't mean it's time to panic.

The instrument, named after astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, has been celebrated for its involvement in tracking asteroids, analysing the Kuiper Belt and documenting the nebula of dying stars.

"So things closer in in the solar system than, say, the orbit of Mars, that would be more hard", he said.

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