Hubble Rx –Gyros Fixed, Backups Normal, Cosmos in View

 

NASA believes it has fixed a malfunction with one of the Hubble telescope’s gyros, needed to point the spacecraft, which threatened to limit the orbiting observatory’s performance forcing controllers to place the telescope in “safe mode” – where it operates with essential functions only. This was required because a backup gyro also malfunctioned when switched on. After a series of tests, the backup gyro now appears to be working normally.

There were originally six gyros; the observatory had been operating on four until the problem about two weeks ago. At any given time, Hubble needs three gyroscopes to work for optimal efficiency.

A gyroscope is a device that measures the speed at which the spacecraft is turning, and is needed to help Hubble turn and lock on to new targets. It consists of a wheel inside a sealed cylinder – called a float – which is suspended in thick fluid.

The failure of a another gyro, and the discovery that a backup was faulty left Hubble with only two fully functional gyros. This could have forced controllers to operate the telescope on just one, to extend the lifetimes of both components for as long as possible.

 

Hubble uses some very basic physics to turn itself around and look at different parts of the sky. Located on the telescope are six Gyroscopes (which, like a compass, always point in the same direction) and four free-spinning steering devices called reaction wheels.

 

The plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain. There were originally six gyros; the observatory had been operating on four until the problem about two weeks ago. At any given time, Hubble needs three gyroscopes to work for optimal efficiency.

“There isn’t much difference between 2 and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time, which the astro community wants desperately,” said the deputy mission head for Hubble, Rachel Osten. But this mode would probably have placed limitations on which part of the sky Hubble could observe at any one time. It might also have taken the telescope longer to move from observing one target to another.

NASA said the malfunctioning backup gyro – which had been turned off for 7.5 years – had been showing “extremely high rotation rates”.

In a statement, NASA said that on 19 October, “the operations team commanded Hubble to perform additional maneuvers and gyro mode switches, which appear to have cleared the issue”.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Hubble

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