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Space-watchers have been nervously watching that bit of space occupied by the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA tries to diagnose a problem with its gyroscopes.

The Hubble Space Telescope stopped collecting science data on 5 October, because of a problem with one of the gyroscopes that the observatory uses to orient itself on celestial targets. Two of Hubble's other gyros of the same type have already failed. It's been peering into the depths of space for almost three decades now, and while it's had a few hiccups in the past, it's always managed to push through them and continue providing humanity with awesome observations.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has had trouble with its gyroscopes before.

NASA sent a December 1999 Space Shuttle service mission (described here) that replaced failed gyros, and a mission in 2009 (the one Hubble's twitter team referred to) again replaced gyros to extend the telescope's life.

"The gyro that failed had been exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year, and its failure was not unexpected", the agency said in its statement.

Launched into deep space in 1990, the large, long orbit telescope is packed with instruments like cameras, spectrographs and interferometers to clear up mysteries of the universe. Staff at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are now performing analyses and tests to determine what options are available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

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'It's true. Very stressful weekend, ' Rachel Osten, Hubble's deputy mission head at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said on Twitter.

Hubble has carried a total of six gyroscopes - three standard and three enhanced - since astronauts installed them during a spacewalk in 2009, typically using three at once.

Redundancy is NASA's best friend, and so it is with the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA stands ready for failures with backups, and even in some cases, improved backup equipment.

Hubble is now down to two working gyroscopes and needs at least three for optimal operations but it can continue to provide observations with just one functioning gyroscope. This past Friday night, Hubble was operating normally with two newer gyros and one older model.

The plan "has always been to drop to 1-gyro mode when two remain", Osten said, adding "there isn't much difference between 2- and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time". The third one hasn't been performing at the level required for operations, NASA said.


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