Hubble Shares First Space Photo After Beating Gyroscope Glitch

NASA, ESA and A. Shapley (UCLA)

The Hubble Space Telescope is officially back in action — and here is the photo to prove it.

After being hobbled by a mechanical glitch in early October — which caused Hubble to unexpectedly shut down in orbit, as reported by the Inquisitr at the time — the venerable spacecraft has made a complete recovery and is already back at work.

In spite of a challenging gyroscope malfunction that put a halt to Hubble science operations for a period of three weeks, the space telescope has returned to service and is now cruising along as if nothing had happened.

Exactly one month ago, Hubble cast its inquisitive eyes over the sky once again and snapped a dazzling photo of the distant cosmos. The image was shared on Twitter yesterday by the Hubble team — which has been constantly keeping us apprised of the telescope’s health status since the gyroscope glitch was uncovered.

This is “the first picture captured by the telescope since it closed its eyes on the universe” on October 5, NASA said in a statement.

The image was captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in the early morning of October 27 and showcases a splendid view of star-forming galaxies located up to 11 billion light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus (“The Winged Horse”).

The first image captured by Hubble after returning to science on October 27.
The first image captured by Hubble after returning to science on October 27.Featured image credit: NASA, ESA and A. Shapley (UCLA)

“It took a lot of creative thinking, repeated tests and minor setbacks to get Hubble exploring the universe again,” the Hubble team wrote in their Twitter post.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, the space telescope was able to dive back into science work only after the team switched on a backup gyroscope, which had been held in reserve since 2011.

While Hubble is fitted with six gyroscopes, the spacecraft actively uses just three of them. Their purpose is to help the telescope maintain its orientation and rotate to lock onto its observational targets.

Two of Hubble’s backup gyroscopes had already been decommissioned when the October 5 glitch occurred — one of them failed in March 2014 and the other one malfunctioned earlier this year, in April, notes Universe Today.

As a result, Hubble was down to its last space gyroscope, which the team activated in mid-October. The procedure didn’t originally pan out, as the spare gyroscope also started acting up and began exhibiting blatant errors as it measured the speed of Hubble’s rotation, per a previous report by the Inquisitr.

Photo of Hubble orbiting Earth, captured by astronauts during the telescope's fourth servicing mission in 2002.
Photo of Hubble orbiting Earth, captured by astronauts during the telescope's fourth servicing mission in 2002.Featured image credit: NASA

According to NASA, the spare hardware “began reporting impossibly high rotation rates — around 450 degrees per hour, when Hubble was actually turning less than a degree per hour.” The problem was eventually addressed after the team came up with the idea of rotating Hubble “by large amounts” and switching the gyroscope between different operational modes to free it up from any potential blockage.

“The team pulled together to staff around the clock, something we haven’t done in years,” said Dave Haskins, Hubble’s mission operations manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

As NASA points out, the Hubble control center has been automated since 2011, which means that there were no longer people in place to monitor the space telescope 24 hours a day.

After a grueling three weeks of diagnosing and testing, Hubble has finally put the trouble behind it and is back to doing what it does best — unraveling the mysteries of the universe.

“This has been an incredible saga, built upon the heroic efforts of the Hubble team,” said Jennifer Wiseman, Hubble senior project scientist at Goddard.

“Thanks to this work, the Hubble Space Telescope is back to full science capability that will benefit the astronomical community and the public for years to come.”

Had the plan not succeeded, NASA engineers were prepared to slide Hubble into a “one-gyro mode,” which would have kept the telescope going — albeit limiting its capacity to observe large swaths of the sky.

“Hubble will continue to make amazing discoveries when it is time to operate in one-gyro mode, but due to the tremendous effort and determination of the mission team, now is not the time,” said Hubble project manager Pat Crouse.