NASA's famed Hubble Space Telescope is nearly back to normal after a failed orienting tool forced engineers to put it in safe mode earlier this month, the US space agency said. The problem came from one of the pieces of equipment on board known as a gyroscope, which helps point and orient the telescope. The telescope was put into safe mode on October 8 while Earth-based engineers tried to fix the problem.
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"The Hubble operations team plans to execute a series of tests to evaluate the performance of the gyro under conditions similar to those encountered during routine science observations, including moving to targets, locking on to a target, and performing precision pointing," NASA said in a news release. "After these engineering tests have been completed, Hubble is expected to soon return to normal science operations."
The gyro was one of three in active use and had been acting up in recent months.
Two others like it have already failed, NASA said, of a total of six on the telescope which has been circling the Earth since 1990.
An attempt to revive the gyroscope by turning it in the opposite direction appears to have cleared any blockage, NASA reported late Monday.
The Hubble Space Telescope has helped scientists discover troves of new planets, make a 3D map of dark matter in the universe, and shed new light on the mysteries of black holes.
A joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency, it was originally meant to last 15 years, but has been in operation more than 28.
"Following the October 18 manoeuvres, the team noticed a significant reduction in the high rates, allowing rates to be measured in low mode for brief periods of time," NASA reports. "On October 19, the operations team commanded Hubble to perform additional manoeuvres and gyro mode switches, which appear to have cleared the issue. Gyro rates now look normal in both high and low mode."
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What is the Hubble Space Telescope?
The Hubble Space Telescope is a large telescope in space. NASA launched Hubble in 1990. Hubble travels around Earth at about 5 miles per second. Hubble faces toward space. It takes pictures of planets, stars and galaxies. Hubble has seen stars being born. Hubble has seen stars die. It has seen galaxies that are trillions of miles away. Hubble also has seen comet pieces crash into the gases above Jupiter.
Scientists have learned a lot about space from Hubble pictures.
(With inputs from agencies)