Coincidence or Sabotage? Another NASA Telescope Has Shut Down

Monday, 15 October 2018 - 12:19PM
Space
Technology
Monday, 15 October 2018 - 12:19PM
Coincidence or Sabotage? Another NASA Telescope Has Shut Down
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Composite from NASA/CXC/NGST & X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/S.Wolk; IR: NASA/JPL/CfA/S.Wolk
It has not been a good few weeks for NASA. With the Hubble Space Telescope still asleep and adrift in safe mode due to instrument failure, the list of problems for the space agency got worse as they announced on Friday that the Chandra X-Ray Observatory had also switched modes two days prior. Although the shutdowns happened within a week of each other, NASA says that it is just a coincidence.

NASA's announcement noted that the transition into safe mode was "under investigation," but alluded to the age of the observatory as a possible explanation for its equipment malfunction. "Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of 5 years," the space agency wrote in a statement. "In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years. It is now well into its extended mission and is expected to continue carrying out forefront science for many years to come."

In an update
posted today, NASA said that Chandra is back up and running and that it was not a dead gyroscope that caused the problem, but a temporary glitch. "The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra's gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that in turn led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode." NASA added that there are plans in place to "switch gyroscopes and place the gyroscope that experienced the glitch in reserve. Once configured with a series of pre-tested flight software patches, the team will return Chandra to science operations which are expected to commence by next week."

Meanwhile, NASA also shared an update on the Hubble Space Telescope situation. "Following the gyro failure, the Hubble operations team turned on a backup gyro on the spacecraft," read the post. "However, that gyro did not perform as expected, reporting rotation rates that are orders of magnitude higher than they actually are. This past week, tests were conducted to assess the condition of that backup gyro. The tests showed that the gyro is properly tracking Hubble's movement, but the rates reported are consistently higher than the true rates." An "anomaly review board" was formed to further assess the situation and try to bring Hubble back to life. "If the team is successful in solving the problem," NASA writes, "Hubble will return to normal, three-gyro operations. If it is not, the spacecraft will be configured for one-gyro operations, which will still provide excellent science well into the 2020s, enabling it to work alongside the James Webb Space Telescope and continue groundbreaking science."

Let's hope there are no more coincidences this week.

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