Hubble trouble: Deep space telescope in ‘safe mode’ after mechanical fail

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The Hubble Space Telescope entered into safe mode after experiencing a gyroscope failure, NASA has revealed. The telescope remains in use, but is in safe mode while the team works out a way to fix the gyroscope problem.

The failed gyro-used to point and steady the telescope-was an inevitability, according to NASA.

"Safe mode puts the telescope into a stable configuration until ground control can correct the issue and return the mission to normal operation", it said. "Everybody said OK, no big surprise, we've been expecting that for a year, let's turn on the gyro that was off at the time to get back onto science operations".

It's been used to date the galaxy and study black holes but now NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is taking a break from activities due to a mechanical fault.

Hubble could potentially function with just two or even a single active gyroscope, so the latest failure shouldn't be the end of the road for the telescope.

Dr. Rachel Osten, the deputy head of the Hubble mission, said it had been a "very stressful weekend". Assuming the team can rescue the malfunctioning gyroscope, Hubble will resume operations in its standard three-gyro configuration. Ideally, Hubble would use three of them simultaneously "for maximum efficiency", but it can continue making observations with one, the agency said in another tweet.

Since its launch in 1990, Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations. Its successor, the 6.5-metre James Webb Space Telescope, will not launch until 2021 at the earliest.

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The 28-year-old telescope has had trouble with its gyroscopes before.

Osten said, 'The plan has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain.

Update for 12:50 p.m. PT Oct. 8: We've added NASA's statement on the gyro issue.

One of the telescope's most famous images is a portion of the Eagle Nebula, known as the "Pillars of Creation", which shows three columns of cold gas illuminated by light from a cluster of young stars. Two of the backup gyros had already failed since 2009. Exhibiting end-of-life behavior for about a year, the gadget actually exceeded expectations.

On their last servicing mission in May 2009, astronauts replaced all six of Hubble's gyroscopes. While the mode offers less sky coverage at any particular time, there is a relatively limited impact on overall scientific capabilities.

It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.