The Hubble Space Telescope uses a gyroscope to help it turn and lock it onto new targets. However, last month, it suddenly stopped working.
These gyroscopes are designed to have two modes: a high one that's used whenever the telescope is turning between two targets, and a low one that’s a lot more precise that helps the Hubble stay completely still as well as lock onto each target. The spacecraft is also equipped with some backup gyroscopes, in the case that the main ones end up failing somehow.
However, in early October, one of the main gyroscopes on the Hubble Space Telescope ended up not working. And the backup that was in place somehow wasn’t working as NASA expected. The backup was rotating way too fast to be able to hold the entire telescope in place so that it can be still and lock in on a new target. But the entire issue with the rotation rates has now been fixed by NASA, all because the organization employed one of the oldest fixes for any electronics that suddenly malfunction. They turned it off and on again.
But they ended up making the process sound a lot more complicated than the simple press of a switch because that's not how it works when it comes to giant telescopes in space.
The team that’s working on the Hubble had to move the gyroscope around while continuously switching it between the high and the low rotation modes repeatedly, so they could clear the blockage that was preventing the telescope from moving properly. At this point, they are back to operating under normal conditions, after they finished making a few more tests to the gyroscopes, to make sure that they don’t end up with the same malfunction again anytime soon. The telescope went back live and was functioning normally at the end of October.
Hubble is back!!! At 9:00 PM EDT last night the spacecraft was returned to normal science operations, and at 2:10 AM EDT today it completed its first science observations since October 5. For more details: https://t.co/lT2Wpycqw2 pic.twitter.com/RIcrSyJ2hF— Hubble (@NASAHubble) October 27, 2018
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched back in April 1990, and it became the first major optical telescope that was placed by humans in space. And over the 28 years, it’s been up there, it’s been constantly streaming back important data on different topics like dark matter and how the planets form.