Spaceflight Insider

Hubble: You can’t keep a good telescope down – for long

Hubble Space Telescope during the last servicing mission to the spacecraft STS 125 carried out on Shuttle Atlantis photo Credit NASA - Copy

The Hubble Space Telescope as seen by the crew of Atlantis on STS-125 in April of 2009. Photo Credit: NASA

In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope began its mission after being deployed by Shuttle Discovery on April 25, 1990. Earlier this month, in terms of scientific operations, the spacecraft went offline. At least for a short while.

Hubble is the flagship of NASA’s “Great Observatories” program and on Oct. 5 a faulty gyroscope (gyro) required engineers on the ground to suspend the telescope’s operations and develop a means to bring Hubble out of safe mode.

It took that team about three weeks to bring one of the backup gyros online and ran into some issues with getting it to operate properly (it had been offline for seven years). On Oct. 27 at 2:10 a.m. ET (06:10 GMT) – Hubble began observing the distant, star-forming galaxy DSF2237B-1-IR. The telescope used its Wide Field Camera 3 instrument to capture the images in the infrared wavelengths. The feat is all the more impressive considering that it had only resumed “normal” operations one day earlier. 

As has been detailed earlier, gyros measure the rotation speeds of telescopes. Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer and other space-based telescopes use these devices to remain fixed accurately on the targets scientists want them aimed at. HST is now back in action with three operating gyros.

If one were to go off of original estimates, Hubble could have gone out of service sometime in 2005. With the redundancies and procedures that were put in place and the servicing missions that visited the spacecraft in the intervening years, Hubble has far surpassed its warranty. It is hoped that the telescope could remain in operations into the next decade.

The last servicing mission to Hubble, STS-125 was conducted on Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2009. With NASA’s fleet of shuttle orbiters now residing in museums or tourists spots, there is no means to carry out any additional maintenance flights to the telescope. 

 

 

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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