Skip to main content

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope may be back in action shortly

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope may be back in action shortly


The spacecraft has been offline after a key instrument failed

Share this story

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
Image: NASA

NASA engineers have figured out how to bring the ailing Hubble Space Telescope back online after troubleshooting an instrument that wasn’t working properly. The observatory, currently in orbit around Earth, has been in safe mode since October 5th when a crucial piece of steering hardware — needed to point the telescope — failed. A backup piece of hardware will be used instead, allowing Hubble to operate at its full capacity again.

One of Hubble’s gyroscopes, the devices that are needed to measure how fast the telescope is turning in space, failed on October 5th. Two of Hubble’s six gyros are already offline, and the failure brought the working number of gyros down to three. Hubble only needs three of them to work at any given time in order to perform its job, but NASA had some trouble getting one of the three functioning gyros to work properly. It’s actually been turned off for seven and a half years, and when NASA started using it again, it was sending back bad data about how the Hubble was turning. The gyro sensed that Hubble was rotating much faster than it was.

The failed instrument was one of Hubble’s gyroscopes

Technically, Hubble could operate with two gyros, but the telescope would be limited in the types of targets that it could observe. It looks like NASA won’t have to rely on just two gyros, though. In an update, the space agency noted that Hubble engineers turned the wonky gyro off for one second and then turned it back on again. That didn’t fix the problem. But then, the team programmed a bunch of maneuvers for Hubble to potentially reset the gyro, in case the cylinder inside the gyro was off-center. That seemed to do the trick; afterward, they gyro stopped measuring super high rotation rates for Hubble.

The gyros consist of spinning wheels that rotate 19,200 times a minute inside a cylinder that’s suspended in fluid. It’s a fancy setup that allows sensors in the cylinders to pick up very small movements in the spinning wheel that can then be communicated to Hubble’s computer. That information is crucial whenever Hubble needs to turn and stay focused on a new target in the Solar System and beyond.

All six of these instruments have been replaced at some point over the telescope’s nearly 30-year history in orbit. Thanks to the Space Shuttle program, astronauts could service Hubble whenever it was in need of repairs. But since the Space Shuttle is no longer flying, there is no vehicle currently capable of bringing humans to the spacecraft. So when something breaks, NASA has to fix it from the ground.

Hubble has been in safe mode ever since its gyro failed

Hubble has been in safe mode ever since its gyro failed, a state in which most of the spacecraft’s instruments are turned off. So the telescope hasn’t been able to do any observations for a while. Hubble is an important tool for the astronomy community, taking images of everything from distant galaxies and stars to faraway objects in our own Solar System.

Hubble isn’t completely ready to return to action yet. NASA has been doing maneuvers with the telescope to make sure the newly fixed gyro continues to work properly. The engineering team also has a bunch of tests planned for the spacecraft to evaluate the gyro further. If those go well, Hubble can get back to its regular workload.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed An hour ago Not just you

Emma RothAn hour ago
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothTwo hours ago
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma Roth5:52 PM UTC
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.