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Hubble once again in safe mode due to gyro problem

On May 24, 2024 the Hubble Space Telescope once again paused its science operations and entered in safe mode, apparently due to gyroscope problem.

The telescope automatically entered safe mode when one of its three gyroscopes gave faulty telemetry readings. Hubble’s gyros measure the telescope’s slew rates and are part of the system that determines and controls precisely the direction the telescope is pointed. NASA will provide more information early the first week of June.

It is not clear if this is the same gyroscope that caused the last two safe mode events.

With each such event the telescope gets closer and closer to having only two gyroscopes. At that point it will shift to one-gyro mode, using only one and holding the second in reserve. From then on it will no longer be able to take perfectly sharp pictures. Science will still be possible, but not like before.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


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  • Doubting Thomas

    It seems illogical that NASA and the Hubble science community has (apparently) put the kabosh on Jared Issacman and SpaceX trying to at least boost Hubble to an orbit that would give people more time to determine more significant fixes to Hubble.

    Hubble was designed for maintenance using the Shuttle and with time a solution could be put together to restore capability to Hubble.

  • Doubting Thomas: NASA has NOT “put the kabosh” on Isaacman’s Hubble proposal. They are studying it, and are likely waiting to see if his spacewalk flight this summer goes well.

  • Calvin Dodge

    Meanwhile, per news stories some NASA employees are aghast at the prospect of Isaacman trying to fix it.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Robert – I made my “kabosh” statement based on a tweet from Jared “Rook” Isaacman on May 18 after various reports that NASA had nixed Polaris Re-boost mission. It sounds like the joint SpaceX-Polaris-NASA report ended up declining the endorsement of a Polaris Reboost Mission.

    I’ll quote (extensively) from Isaacmans own posting on the 18th:

    “There are 3 positions here, but only one that truly matters: * My (Isaacman’s) personal opinion, * the personal opinions of those who chimed in late in the process….* But what really matters is the joint study – Polaris-SpaceX-NASA. The Team, performed the technical analysis for ~ 6 months and ARRIVED AT A FORMAL RECOMMENDATION (my emphasis).”

    So, it sounds to me (Doubting Thomas) like the NASA study reached its recommendation. Isaacman goes on to say:

    “WOULD IT (my emphasis) be worth the risk to save Hubble? …..Once it reaches a certain altitude, the prospect of a mission are all but lost….HAD A MISSION BEEN FLOWN (my emphasis) AND I (ISSACMAN) WAS HAPPY TO FUND IT, I believe that it would have resulted in the development of capabilities beneficial to the future of commercia space and given Hubble a new lease on life.”

    In addition, Thomas Zurbuchen, a former Associate Administrator at NASA Science Directorate tweeted on the same day (5/18): “Even though I was not at NASA during the final steps that left of the ultimate demise of the Polaris-Hubble mission, I can attest to the deep analysis…..and incredible and deep collaboration between SPACEX, Polaris and Hubble experts both from NASA and Space Telescope Science Services.”

    So based on the past tense use of arrived, would, had and was by Isaacman and the Zurbuchen tweet, it looks like there is no Polaris Reboost mission in the next year or two. I have NOT seen a published copy of the joint study, if one of your readers can point to it, that would be a real service IMO.

    I am willing to bet that we will see Hubble shut down and burnup before any mission can be mounted, especially given the pace of USG projects and the required massive budgets to accomplish even the simplest (which this type of mission is NOT) of tasks

    Doubting Thomas

  • Doubting Thomas: While all you cite is true, I would not be so pessimistic. In writing the history of Hubble (The Universe in a Mirror), I was amazed how many times people tried to kill the project or end Hubble, and failed.

    As for a Isaacman rescue mission, I can guarantee that no mission would fly in a year or two no matter what. Isaacman first needs to demonstrate that Dragon can handle a hatch opening, that he can do a spacewalk, that the spacesuits can function, and while out in space he can also actually do work, something Gemini astronauts found surprisingly difficult and required special equipment (a solid attachment point and tools designed for weightlessness).

    That special equipment — taylored for SpaceX equipment, does not yet exist. It can be made, but that will take a bit of time.

    If Hubble goes to one-gyro mode and can no longer take sharp pictures, and Isaacman’s proposed mission can fix this, I can easily see the political wheels moving hard to make it happen.

  • One more point I forgot to mention: Hubble’s orbit believed to be stable for at least another decade, so there is plenty of time to plan and fly for a reboost mission.

  • Jeff Wright

    This is why I wanted a Buran type Shuttle 2.

    Or a Raptor/Merlin STS follow on…new tank, same solids, etc.

  • GeorgeC

    If I remember correctly the previous Hubble repair missions depended on a large amount of training using

    With Falcon 9 it might be more productive to train in space.

  • pzatchok

    Doesn’t Hubble have launch points or attachment points?

    Those same points could be used to attach an external gyro system that is remotely sent. If it takes a person to attach it it could at least be sent remotely to wait till someone gets there to install it.

    I bet NASA though would want a full repair job. physically replace everything possible and upgrade all the instruments.

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