Title: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Continues Operations with Single Gyroscope

The Hubble Space Telescope, a flagship venture of NASA, is set to continue its operations with just one gyroscope, following a series of malfunctions in the other two. The telescope, which has been in operation for over three decades, uses gyroscopes to orient itself and maintain a stable view of celestial bodies.

Originally, Hubble was equipped with six gyroscopes, but over time, due to the demanding environment of space, they began to fail. Two were replaced during the last servicing mission in 2009. However, the telescope’s design allows it to function with as few as one gyroscope, albeit with some constraints.

In October 2018, one of the three remaining operational gyroscopes failed, leaving the space telescope with just two. Then, in January 2021, another one malfunctioned. The final gyroscope is now the only one left running, which has forced the Hubble team to switch to a one-gyroscope mode, something that had been planned for many years in case of such an eventuality.

Operating with just one gyroscope does limit the telescope’s view of the sky at any given time. This is because a single gyroscope can only measure rotation around one axis, whereas three gyroscopes allow the telescope to measure rotation around three axes, offering a wider field of view. However, the one-gyroscope mode does not impact the quality of the images captured, and Hubble can still conduct its scientific observations.

NASA’s engineers have been systematically reducing the telescope’s reliance on gyroscopes over the last decade by developing and implementing a series of software patches. This software uses data from other onboard sensors, such as star trackers and fine guidance sensors, to supplement the gyroscope data and ensure Hubble can still point accurately.

The team’s innovative problem-solving has ensured that Hubble can continue to function even with this reduced capability. Despite the constraints, the one-gyroscope mode allows the telescope to observe around 80% of the sky over the course of a year, which is still a significant amount of coverage.

While the failure of the gyroscopes is a concern, it is not unexpected. These devices have a limited lifespan and are subject to extreme conditions in space. The Hubble team has been planning for such eventualities since the telescope’s launch, knowing that the gyroscopes would eventually fail.

Although the Hubble Space Telescope is now functioning with only one gyroscope, it continues to provide valuable data about the universe. Its longevity is a testament to the robust design and the dedication of the team that supports it. The Hubble team remains optimistic about the telescope’s future, and they continue to work on solutions to extend its operational life.

In the meantime, the space community eagerly awaits the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s successor. The James Webb Space Telescope, once operational, will complement and eventually replace Hubble, offering a more advanced platform for exploring the cosmos. However, until that happens, the Hubble Space Telescope will continue to function and contribute valuable observations with its remaining gyroscope.


The Hubble Space Telescope, which has been experiencing problems with a faulty gyroscope, will switch to operating with just one gyroscope, NASA announced on June 4. The telescope’s set of gyroscopes assist in measuring and controlling its attitude or orientation, which is important for keeping the Hubble steady and ensuring its images remain clear.

Recently, the telescope had to stop its science observations after one of its gyroscopes started providing incorrect readings, leading the observatory to go into safe mode on May 24. Typically, the telescope operates with three gyroscopes to efficiently monitor and control its movement in all directions. However, it can continue to function with just one.

Currently, the Hubble has only two functional gyroscopes left, out of the total of six that were installed in the course of its most recent servicing mission in 2009. By operating with just one gyroscope, the other one is preserved for future use.

NASA had always planned for the Hubble to operate with one gyroscope as a contingency plan. The method involves using other onboard sensors, such as cameras and magnetometers, as substitutes for any failed gyroscopes. This strategy was developed over 20 years ago to ensure that the observatory could continue to operate for as long as possible.

In the past, the Hubble has functioned with only two gyroscopes. From 2005 to 2009, prior to its last space shuttle servicing mission, the telescope used just two gyroscopes. Additionally, in 2008, a test of the one-gyroscope mode was conducted by NASA, which found that it didn’t affect the quality of the scientific data collected by the Hubble.

However, operating with one gyroscope does come with some drawbacks. The Hubble will take longer to orient itself and find targets, and it won’t be able to change its observation area as frequently. Moreover, the telescope will not be able to track objects that are closer than Mars’ orbit as these would be moving too quickly through its field of view.

NASA plans for the Hubble to return to operations with this new configuration in mid-June, although the pace of observations is expected to be slower.



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