The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, will be easy to retire

Hubble will operate on a gyroscope from mid-June


The venerable Hubble Space Telescope, which has revolutionized astronomical discovery since its launch in 1990, will be retired with a scaled-down observing schedule, NASA officials said Tuesday.

One of the three gyroscopes controlling the direction of the telescope points unstable in recent months, leading to intermittent „safe mode” episodes — most recently on May 24.

„After completing a series of tests and carefully considering our options, we have decided to switch to operating Hubble using only one of the three remaining gyros,” said Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division.

The other gyro is kept in reserve for future use.

The transition, which should be completed by mid-June, will reduce Hubble’s efficiency in carrying out science observations by 12 percent, from 85 orbits per week to 74, said Patrick Kruse, program manager for the Hubble Space Telescope mission.

Over the course of a year, it can still see the entire night sky. It can no longer track objects closer than Mars — even though such targets are rare anyway, Cruz said.

NASA calculates that the system has a more than 70 percent chance of being operational by 2035. At the end of the telescope’s lifespan, the US space agency plans to safely replace or dispose of the popular science instrument in orbit.

„We don’t see Hubble on its last legs, we think it’s a very capable observatory to do exciting science with other observatories in orbit and those that may join us in orbit,” Cruz said.

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The most distant star

Named after astronomer Edwin Hubble, the telescope was launched in 1990 and operates about 320 miles (515 kilometers) from Earth.

Between 1993 and 2009, astronauts visited Hubble five times for repairs.

NASA and SpaceX previously said they were studying a possible mission to re-boost Hubble’s orbit, which gradually decays over time due to Earth’s gravity, and part of that review considered ways to mitigate the loss of gyros.

But ideas for adding an extra gyro to the telescope’s exterior were „just conceptual ideas — we never got to the point where we could see what it would look like and how we would do it,” Clampin said.

As one of the most valuable instruments in the history of science, Hubble continues to make important discoveries, and in 2022 it discovered the most distant star ever seen — Erendel, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach us.

Despite its reduced capacity, Hubble continues to do „a great breadth of science,” from exploring objects in our solar system to studying the earliest galaxies to studying the atmospheres of the outer planets with the new James Webb Space Telescope, Clampin said.

While Webb, now the primary space telescope, excels in infrared detection, Hubble’s primary focus on visible light provides a complementary capability, enhancing their combined scientific impact.

(Other than the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)

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