Recently hobbled by a mechanical glitch, the Hubble Space Telescope is currently on the fast track to recovery and might be back in action soon enough.
According to an update from NASA, the venerable space telescope just completed a week of intensive tests designed to gauge its stability and will shortly be cleared to resume science operations.
As the Inquisitr reported at the beginning of the month, Hubble was knocked off-line on October 5, after a failed gyroscope caused the 28-year-old spacecraft to enter a protective “safe mode.”
Since the device is crucial to maintaining Hubble’s orientation — the telescope uses three gyroscopes to help it turn in space and lock onto its observational targets — NASA has worked diligently to fix the problem and get the spacecraft back on-line.
All that effort seems to have paid off, as Hubble is now “moving closer to normal science operations,” the space agency announced yesterday. The telescope is almost ready to put the gyroscope trouble behind and get back to what it does best — producing amazing science.
“Back to science! Hubble is well on its way to normal science operations after a series of spacecraft stability tests commanded by our operations team,” NASA tweeted on October 22.
Back to science! @NASAHubble is well on its way to normal science operations after a series of spacecraft stability tests commanded by our operations team. After evaluate its performance, the telescope is expected to return to science as usual. Learn more: https://t.co/KPKMDMO6dr pic.twitter.com/yOfaagZlep
— NASA (@NASA) October 22, 2018
Following Hubble’s sudden shutdown in orbit, the space agency switched on a spare gyroscope to get the telescope up and running again. However, the backup device — which hadn’t been used in more than seven years — didn’t work as expected.
The replacement gyroscope displayed bizarre readings of Hubble’s movements, indicating that the spacecraft was rotating at abnormally high rates, the Inquisitr reported in mid-October.
However, now everything seems to be in order, NASA revealed in the latest update.
“The rotation rates produced by the backup gyro have since reduced and are now within an expected range. Additional tests will be performed to ensure Hubble can return to science operations with this gyro.”
The space agency spent this past week conducting a number of troubleshooting activities meant to clear any blockages that might interfere with the gyroscope’s readings.
The device is made up of a wheel encased inside a sealed cylinder, which floats in a thick liquid and is actually called a “float.” The wheel spins at a constant rate of 19,200 revolutions per minute — with each small movement of its axis being picked up and relayed to Hubble’s central computer by electronics within the gyro.
“These gyros have two modes — high and low,” explained NASA officials. “High mode is a coarse mode used to measure large rotation rates when the spacecraft turns across the sky from one target to the next. Low mode is a precision mode used to measure finer rotations when the spacecraft locks onto a target and needs to stay very still.”
In order to correct the faulty readings recorded by the backup gyroscope, NASA engineers first restarted the device on October 16 and then commanded Hubble to turn in opposite directions several times.
These spacecraft maneuvers, performed on October 18, had the gyroscope switch from high mode to low mode in order to dislodge any potential blockage accumulated around the float and which might have caused it to be off-center.
“Gyro rates now look normal in both high and low mode,” stated NASA officials, noting that Hubble will return to science operations shortly after a few additional engineering tests with the backup gyroscope.