After a short break from the cosmos, NASA 's Hubble Space Telescope is officially operational and the observatory has captured a striking new view of a distant galaxy in star formation.
On October 5, the Hubble telescope entered a "safe mode" of protection when one of its sustainably held gyroscopes broke down. After about three weeks, the mission team was able to repair the chaotic gyro and deliver Hubble online. Shortly after, the telescope pointed to a field of galaxies forming stars, located about 11 billion light years from Earth, in the constellation Pegasus.
The new image, taken Oct. 27 with the help of the telescope's wide-field camera 3, was the first image captured by the telescope after it returned to service, according to a NASA statement. However, bringing Hubble online was not an easy task. Engineers and experts have worked tirelessly to find a solution, officials said in a statement. [The Hubble Space Telescope’s Greatest Discoveries]
"It's an incredible saga, built on the heroic efforts of the Hubble team," said Jennifer Wiseman, Hubble Project Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in the United States. its press release. "Thanks to this work, the Hubble Space Telescope has recovered all of its scientific capabilities that will benefit the astronomical community and the public for years to come."
Once the members of the Hubble Operations team were informed that the telescope had stopped taking scientific observations into account, they quickly tried to revive the failed gyroscope, but without success.
Instead, the team was able to activate a rescue gyroscope on the spacecraft. However, this gyroscope quickly reported incredibly high rotation rates of 450 degrees per hour, while Hubble was running at less than 1 degree per hour. The team had never seen such high rates on any other gyroscope, according to the release.
The Hubble telescope has a total of six gyroscopes, but generally uses three at a time to collect data on telescope orientation. Since two of the telescope's six gyroscopes had already failed, it was the final backup gyroscope. This meant that the operations team had to find a way to make it work or to resort to a possible "gyroscope mode", which would greatly limit Hubble's observations.
In 2011, the Hubble Control Center moved to automated operations, meaning users no longer monitor the telescope 24 hours a day. However, during the brief Hubble Offline visit, team members monitored permanently the health and safety of the telescope.
"The team has been mobilized around the clock, which we have not done in years," said Dave Haskins, Hubble Mission Operations Manager at Goddard, in a statement. . "For me, it was seamless, that shows the versatility of the team."
NASA has also engaged another team of experts to determine how to correct the unusual behavior of the emergency gyroscope. After weeks of creative thinking, continuous testing and minor setbacks, the team concluded that there could be a blockage. They attempted to solve this problem by switching the gyroscope between different modes of operation and rotating the spacecraft. As a result, the gyroscope has gradually changed its rotation to adopt more normal rates, according to the release.
Following this success, the team downloaded new software on the telescope and performed a series of hands-on maneuvers to simulate real-world scientific observations. This ensured that the telescope was ready for action, with three gyroscopes in operation.
Meanwhile, other members of the team had focused their efforts on preparing Hubble for the use of a single gyroscope. Although these preparations are not necessary at the moment, NASA officials said that the telescope will inevitably go into a gyroscope mode at some point, and that the teams will now be ready for that.
"Many team members have made personal sacrifices to work long hours and provide rest periods to ensure the health and safety of the observatory, while identifying a pathway to both safe and effective, "said Pat Crouse, Hubble Project Manager.
"The recovery of the gyroscope is not only vital for the life expectancy of the observatory, but Hubble is particularly productive in three gyroscope mode, and the extension of this historical period of productivity is an essential goal mission, "he said. "Hubble will continue to make amazing discoveries when it's time to operate in single-gyroscopic mode, but because of the tremendous effort and determination of the mission team, this is not the time."