NASA has released the first image of the Hubble Space Telescope after overcoming orientation issues suffered earlier in October, which forced the space telescope to go offline, until scientists from Earth managed to get it working again.
On Friday, October 5, the orbital observatory was put in “safe mode” after one of its gyroscopes failed.
Hubble stopped taking scientific observations, oriented its solar panels towards the Sun and waited for more instructions from Earth.
Then on October 27, Hubble pointed to a field of galaxies not far from the Great Plaza in the Pegasus constellation.
In the field, star-forming galaxies were found at a distance of up to 11,000 million light years.
With the aim in view, the wide field camera 3 of Hubble recorded an image which as NASA highly in a statement is, “the result of a whole team of engineers and experts who worked tirelessly for the telescope to explore the cosmos once again.”
And kudos to the team who got Hubble kicking again.
Hubble has six gyros on board, and normally uses three at a time to collect as much scientific data as possible.
However, two of its six gyroscopes had previously failed. This was the last backup gyroscope Hubble had available.
Mission engineers had to figure out how to make it work, or resort to a previously developed and tested “single turn mode,” which is proven to work but would limit Hubble’s efficiency and the amount of sky the telescope could observe in an era determined by the year, something that both the operations team and astronomers want to avoid until there is no other option.
As explained by NASA, team members stayed in the control center continuously to monitor the health and safety of the spacecraft. Because Hubble’s control center had switched to automated operations back in 2011, there were no longer people in place to monitor Hubble 24 hours a day.
“The team pulled together to staff around the clock, something we haven’t done in years,” Dave Haskins, Hubble’s mission operations manager at Goddard said.
Team members stepped in to take shifts — several of Hubble’s systems engineers, others who help run tests and checkouts of Hubble’s ground systems and some who used to staff Hubble’s control room but hadn’t in a long time.
“It’s been years since they’ve been on console doing that kind of shift work. To me it was seamless. It shows the versatility of the team.”
It took weeks of creative thinking and brainstorming, continuous testing and small setbacks to solve the problem of the malfunctioning gyros.
Hubble scientists and the review board suspected that there might be some kind of obstruction that affects the space telescope’s readings.
Attempting to dislodge such a blockade, the team repeatedly tried changing the gyro between different operational modes and rotate the space telescope by large amounts.
In response, the extremely high rotation rates gradually decreased until they were nearly back to normal.
For now, however, Hubble is back to exploring the universe with three working gyros, thanks to the hard work of a multitude of people on the ground.