Hubble Space Telescope timeline infographic
Graphic shows key events in the mission of the Hubble Space Telescope.


Veteran Hubble Space Telescope timeline

By Duncan Mil

June 7, 2024 - After more than three decades in orbit, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has transformed the field of astronomy. Its continued scientific discoveries have completely changed our understanding of the universe, but the observatory has been in “safe mode” since May 24.

“It’s just made these huge contributions. It’s re-written a lot of what we know,” said Hubble astronomer Adam Riess, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics for his work verifying the existence of dark energy.

The safe-mode event is the latest of several that have suspended the telescope’s science operations. Most of these disruptions are linked to faulty readings from a gyroscope, or gyro, that enables Hubble to track targets across the sky.

Hubble’s six gyros were all replaced in 2009 during the last space shuttle mission to service the telescope. Now, Hubble is down to two good gyros to steer and point the telescope.

During a press conference on Tuesday (June 4), Mark Clampin, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, announced that the space agency is transitioning Hubble to “one-gyro mode,” as a contingency plan.

“Operationally, we believe this is our best approach to support Hubble science through this decade and into the next since most of the observations it takes will be completely unaffected by this change,” said Clampin.

The one-gyro mode uses Hubble’s magnetometers and sun sensors to determine the spacecraft’s orientation to the Earth and Sun.

NASA aims for Hubble to resume operations with its new configuration in mid-June.

PUBLISHED: 07/06/2024; STORY: Graphic News; PICTURES: Getty Images, ESA, NASA, Walter Jaffe (Leiden Observatory), Jeff Hester (Arizona State University), Alan Stern (SWRI), Marc Buie (Lowell Observatory), Adam Riess (Space Telescope Science Institute)