The Hubble Space Telescope is making a major change to continue observing the universe

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The Hubble Space Telescope will transition to a new way of operating aimed at preventing the space observatory from experiencing lapses in its ability to observe the universe, according to NASA officials.

storied telescope, which has He has been taking breathtaking images of the universe for 34 years, traditionally operates using six gyros. These gyroscopes, or gyroscopes, are part of a system that controls and determines the direction in which the telescope is pointing, Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said during a press conference on Tuesday.

As Hubble moves toward taking images of exoplanets, galaxies and other celestial phenomena, the gyroscopes measure the telescope’s rate of movement until it reaches the right spot for the next scientific observation, Clampin said.

As the telescope aged, the gyroscopes needed to be replaced, and six new gyroscopes were installed during the last Hubble servicing mission conducted by astronauts aboard NASA’s space shuttle in 2009.


NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observes the universe in May 2009 after one of the Space Shuttle missions to serve the space observatory.

Over time, some of the gyroscopes stopped working, but three remained operational, making no change to how the telescope worked — until now.

Over the past six months, one of the three remaining gyroscopes returned false readings that caused the telescope to enter “safe mode” several times and stop its observation of the universe, Clampin said.

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The Hubble team was able to reset the gyroscope from Earth, but those fixes were temporary, and the problem appeared repeatedly, said Patrick Cross, Hubble Space Telescope project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The telescope entered safe mode on May 24 after another malfunction with the problematic gyroscope, and it remains that way, Cross said.

After careful consideration, the Hubble team decided to operate Hubble using one gyro, and the other working gyro will be kept in reserve for future use, Clampin said.

The team has long considered converting the telescope to single-rotation mode to extend its life after developing the plan more than 20 years ago.

“We believe this is our best approach to supporting Hubble science through this decade and into the next, as most observations in space will be completely unaffected by this change,” Clampin said.

Hubble operated in dual gyroscope mode from 2005 to 2009, and in single gyroscope mode for a short period in 2008 with no impact on the quality of scientific observations. According to the agency.

Krause said change does not come without restrictions.

The telescope will need more time to move and lock on the objects it is observing, which reduces its efficiency and flexibility. It also won’t be able to track moving objects closer to Earth than Mars, but historically, Hubble has rarely observed such targets, Cross said.

Now, the team will reconfigure both the telescope and the ground-based system that sends information to Hubble. The goal is to return Hubble to routine observations by mid-June.

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Previously, there was a feasibility study to evaluate how to help business partners Boosting Hubble to a higher orbit To buy the telescope more operational time so it is not pulled by Earth’s atmosphere for a controlled reentry in the 2030s. The agency is considering the risks and requirements of such a maneuver but is not moving forward with any “restart” plans at this time, Clampin said.

Hubble is expected to operate until the mid-2030s, with its cosmic observations providing a complement to the work of the James Webb Space Telescope and future observatories that have not yet been launched, Clampin said.

“We don’t see Hubble as being on its last legs, and we think it’s a very capable observatory,” Cross said.

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