Hubble Space Telescope sidelined by serious pointing failure (Update)

October 8, 2018 by Marcia Dunn
In this April 25, 1990 file photo provided by NASA, most of the giant Hubble Space Telescope can be seen as it is suspended in space by Discovery's Remote Manipulator System (RMS) following the deployment of part of its solar panels and antennae. The Hubble Space Telescope has been sidelined by a pointing system failure. NASA announced Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, that one of Hubble's gyroscopes shut down last Friday, Oct. 5. As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode, where it's still orbiting all right but with non-essential systems turned off. That means all astronomy observations are on hold. (NASA via AP, File)

The Hubble Space Telescope has been sidelined by a serious pointing problem.

NASA announced Monday that one of Hubble's gyroscopes failed last Friday. While that was expected—that particular gyro was expected to go sometime this year—the surprise came when a backup did not kick in properly Saturday.

As a result, Hubble remains in so-called safe mode and all science observations are on hold.

The 28-year-old telescope has had trouble with its gyroscopes before. Spacewalking shuttle astronauts replaced all six in 2009 during the final servicing mission. Three of them are now considered unusable.

"I think Hubble's in good hands right now, I really do," said Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates Hubble. "The fact that we're having some gyro problems, that's kind of a long tradition with the observatory."

Gyroscopes are needed to keep the 340-mile-high (540-kilometer-high) Hubble pointed in the right direction during observations. Precise pointing is crucial: Astronomers use the telescope to peer deep into the cosmos, revealing faraway solar systems as well as galaxies and black holes. Just last week, astronomers said they may have discovered the first moon outside our solar system, with Hubble's help.

Since its launch in 1990, Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations.

Two of Hubble's gyroscopes are working fine, Sembach said. The last one was in reserve; it was turned off some years ago after exhibiting some "funny behavior" even though it was getting the job done, he said. That's the one that flight controllers turned on Saturday as a backup; as of Monday, it still wasn't working as expected.

Sembach said everyone wants to be careful in attempting a repair.

"Obviously, we don't want to make things worse," he said.

Hubble normally uses three gyroscopes to function, but could get by with one or two, something it's done before. But that leaves little room for additional breakdowns. Besides redundancy, three functional gyroscopes also provide more flexibility in pointing, Sembach said.

"We'll be fine," he said from the Baltimore institute. "I'm sure Hubble has many years of good science ahead of it."

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carbon_unit
not rated yet Oct 08, 2018
Why can't we make longer lived gyroscopes? They seems to pretty much be the end of many fine spacecraft. (That and running out of fuel for thrusters - more understandable.)

Anyway, Hang in there Hubble! Maybe BFR will be able to do a servicing mission as one of its early missions? That should be within its capabilities?
Nikstlitselpmur
not rated yet Oct 08, 2018
Is the failure of a gyroscope known as Gimble Lock?
bobpixel
3 / 5 (2) Oct 08, 2018
Why can't we make longer lived gyroscopes?


https://hackaday....weather/

Apparently this problem is going to go away as we move to ceramic bearings.
Osiris1
1.7 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2018
Replace the chemical thrusters with electric plasma ones, and use an electronic gyro.
Nikstlitselpmur
5 / 5 (3) Oct 08, 2018
Why can't we make longer lived gyroscopes?


https://hackaday....weather/

Apparently this problem is going to go away as we move to ceramic bearings.


Hubble uses gas bearings.
Nikstlitselpmur
not rated yet Oct 08, 2018
Not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, NASA has two more space telescopes as big as Hubble in warehouses, that were transferred from US Military Intelligence services to NASA six years ago. They were never deployed, and advances in satellite surveillance technology rendered them militarily obsolete.
pntaylor
1 / 5 (1) Oct 09, 2018
"The fact that we're having some gyro problems, that's kind of a long tradition with the observatory."

Maybe it's time to break with "tradition" and get new design and manufacturing contractors.
Doug_Nightmare
not rated yet Oct 09, 2018
Hubble ST is worn out and obsolescent. What is the moment that the pointing gyroscopes must transfer, that you would have load a 'bearing'?

A long time ago it was my job in particular ship's casualties to hold 'up' a 55 lbm 35K RPM mechanical gyroscope. The training videos of failed bearings were impressive - bomb like.

See the JWST pointing.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Oct 09, 2018
Maybe it's time to break with "tradition" and get new design

They did the set that was installed in 2009 was a different design.

That these gyroscopes have worked as long as they have is a minor miracle. Nearly 10 years of constant work under those conditions without a minute of servicing - you'll be hard pressed to find something that can do that down here, let alone in space.

Space is harsh.
Cusco
4 / 5 (4) Oct 09, 2018
Nikstlitselpmur@
Only one of the two telescopes "donated" from the NRO currently has a mission, that's WFIRST infrared astronomy mission (slated for 2024 because of the tiny trickle of funding). The thundering herd of lawyers in Congress won't give them any funding for the second one.
Phyllis Harmonic
not rated yet Oct 09, 2018
Replace the chemical thrusters with electric plasma ones, and use an electronic gyro.


Hubble doesn't use thrusters, for a few reasons- contamination of optical surfaces and limited reactant being the two main ones. Instead of thrusters, Hubble uses reaction wheels and magnatorquers for positioning.
Aroryborealis
not rated yet Oct 09, 2018
A "long tradition" indeed.
Didn't that custom include.....SERVICING......the single most productive scientific instrument in history?

mtnphot
not rated yet Oct 15, 2018
Replace the chemical thrusters with electric plasma ones, and use an electronic gyro.

Its the mass and inertia of the gyroscope that keeps the Hubble pointed in the same direction. Electronics doesn't help you there. Plasma thrusters may have some advantage but even they have a finite fuel source.
Phyllis Harmonic
not rated yet Oct 15, 2018
Its the mass and inertia of the gyroscope that keeps the Hubble pointed in the same direction.


Nope- it uses reaction wheels:
http://hubblesite...ing2.php

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