Gehrels Swift space telescope now in safe mode

The Gehrels Swift space telescope, used to get real time observations of gamma ray bursts and other high energy deep space events, is presently in safe mode due to the failure of one of its three gyroscopes.

On March 15, NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory entered into safe mode, temporarily suspending science operations due to degrading performance from one of its three gyroscopes (gyros), which are used to point the observatory for making observations. The rest of the spacecraft remains in good health.

Swift is designed to successfully operate without one of its gyros if necessary; however, a software update is required. The team is working on the flight software update that would permit the spacecraft to continue science operations using its two remaining gyros.

The telescope has been operating in orbit for nearly twenty years, far longer than originally planned. Its observations were crucial in discovering that gamma ray bursts occur at vast distances and involve either the core collapse of a star or the merger of two neutron stars.

Gehrels/Swift space telescope enters safe mode

The Neil Gehrels Swift observatory ceased science observations and entered safe mode on January 18, 2021, when one of its six reaction wheels experienced a failure.

It appears the other five reaction wheels, which function as gyroscopes to point the telescope accurately, are working properly. If engineers can’t recover the lost wheel, the telescope will still be able to operate with no problems.

Swift was launch seventeen years ago in order to solve the mystery of gamma ray bursts, which it did most successful. The man who most made the observatory possible, its principal scientist, Neil Gehrels, passed away in 2017, and to honor his memory the telescope was then named after him.