Chandra X-Ray Observatory Is Back In Action After Five-Day Hiatus


Last week, two of NASA’s “Great Observatories” — the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory — found themselves temporarily out of commission following issues with failed gyroscopes.

Both Hubble and Chandra shut down in orbit — on October 5 and October 10, respectively — after unrelated gyroscope glitches caused the telescopes to lose their bearings. The failed pieces of hardware then triggered a “safe mode,” in which only the essential survival systems of both spacecraft remained active.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, while Hubble clearly experienced a technical problem with one of its three active gyroscopes, in Chandra’s case the gyroscope failure was only suspected rather than confirmed. NASA was, at the time, still investigating the issue to find out what went wrong with the X-ray observatory.

Since then, Hubble has turned on its backup gyroscope, which unfortunately didn’t function up to par. The space telescope’s team is currently awaiting the verdict of an anomaly review board — which will decide the next course of action — the Inquisitr reported on Saturday.

Meanwhile, NASA has just issued an update on Chandra, announcing that experts have finally figured out why the observatory went off-line. Just like in Hubble’s case, the problem was traced back to a malfunctioning gyroscope, which has been placed in reserve.

Chandra successfully switched to another gyroscope and is now back to “its normal pointing mode,” stated space agency officials.

“Chandra operations resume after cause of safe mode identified: our Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode. After software reconfiguration, we will return to science operations soon,” the Chandra Observatory team tweeted earlier today.

According to NASA, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory went off-line after a glitch in one of its gyroscopes resulted “in a three-second period of bad data that, in turn, led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum.”

It was this incorrect calculation of Chandra’s momentum that ended up triggering the safe mode, sidelining the observatory less than a week after Hubble experienced a similar hardware fault.

As Extreme Tech points out, Chandra is equipped with four pairs of gyroscopes — which means that the spacecraft has enough functional hardware to be up and running again.

In fact, the X-ray observatory is expected to resume its science operations next week, as NASA announced in a tweet.

Launched on July 23, 1999, Chandra is the youngest of the “Great Observatories” and has more than exceeded its “original design lifetime,” the space agency emphasized. Built to last for five years, Chandra is still going strong at 19 years old.

Last month, NASA extended the Chandra X-ray astronomy mission by awarding the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a $563.5 million contract extension running through September 30, 2024. This contract comes with two three-year options that would further extend the agreement until September 30, 2030.