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The historic Hubble Telescope has entered “safe mode.”  Here’s NASA’s plan to keep it alive

The historic Hubble Telescope has entered “safe mode.” Here’s NASA’s plan to keep it alive

(CNN) — The Hubble Space Telescope will transition to a new way of operating aimed at preventing the space observatory from experiencing a failure in its ability to observe the universe, according to NASA officials.

The historic telescope, which captured stunning images of the universe for 34 years, was powered by six gyroscopes. Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a press conference on Tuesday that these gyroscopes are part of a system that controls and determines the direction in which the telescope points.

As Hubble changes direction to take images of exoplanets, galaxies and other celestial phenomena, the gyroscopes measure how quickly the telescope is moving so that it gets to the right place for the next scientific observation, Clampin said.

As the telescope aged, it was necessary to replace the gyroscopes, and six new gyroscopes were installed during the last Hubble servicing mission conducted by astronauts aboard NASA’s space shuttle in 2009.

The historic Hubble Telescope has entered “safe mode.”  Here’s NASA’s plan to keep it alive

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observes the universe in May 2009 after one of the Space Shuttle missions to serve the space observatory. (Credit: NASA)

Over time, some of the gyroscopes stopped working, but three of them remained operational, without changing the operation of the telescope, until now.

Incorrect readings disrupt Hubble

Over the past six months, one of the three remaining gyroscopes returned false readings that caused the telescope to enter “safe mode” several times and stop its observation of the universe, Clampin said.

The Hubble team was able to reset the gyroscope from Earth, but those fixes were temporary and the problem appeared repeatedly, said Patrick Cross, Hubble Space Telescope project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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The telescope entered safe mode on May 24 after another malfunction of the problematic gyroscope, and it remains that way, Cross said.

After careful consideration, the Hubble team decided to operate Hubble using one gyroscope, and the other operational gyroscope would be kept for future use, Clampin said.

The team has long considered converting the telescope to gyro mode to extend its life after developing the plan more than 20 years ago.

“We believe this is our best approach to supporting Hubble science during this decade and into the next, as most observations in space will not be affected at all by this change,” Clampin said.

Hubble operated in dual-gyroscope mode from 2005 to 2009, and in single-gyroscope mode for a brief period in 2008 with no impact on the quality of scientific observations. According to the agency .

Future Hubble observations

Krause said change does not come without restrictions.

The telescope will need more time to move and lock on the objects it is observing, which reduces its efficiency and flexibility. It also won’t be able to track moving objects closer to Earth than Mars, but historically, Hubble has rarely observed such targets, Cross said.

Now, the team will reconfigure both the telescope and the ground-based system that sends information to Hubble. The goal is to return Hubble to routine observations by mid-June.

Previously, there was a feasibility study evaluating how commercial partners could help boost Hubble to a higher orbit to give the telescope more operational time so that Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t pull it into a controlled return in the 2030s. Clampin said the company is not moving forward with any plans to “return.” Activate” at the moment.

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Hubble is expected to operate until the mid-2030s, and its cosmic observations will provide a complement to the work of the James Webb Space Telescope and future observatories that have not yet been launched, Clampin said.

“We don’t see Hubble as being on its last legs, and we think it’s a very capable observatory,” Cross said.