Will the Hubble telescope last?
By Jim Scott
It has been almost three decades since Nasa launched its Hubble Space Telescope back in 1990. The telescope was worth $1.5 billion (approximately £1.1 billion) at the time when it was thrusted out of earth’s atmosphere for a long life in space, orbiting 353 miles above earth. The telescope or HST as scientists call it, has since revealed spectacular images from the far corners of the universe and most recently, signs of another galaxy’s moon over 8,000 light years away.
But on Tuesday October 9th, NASA announced the telescope had suffered major mechanical failure rendering its "frozen". On Wednesday, NASA said the telescope was only operating with "essential functions" after an axel which helps point its super-lens into the heart of space stopped working.
The telescope has since been placed in a form of "safe mode" whilst scientists are believed to be working on a fix. It is expected the telescope will still be able to function, albeit slower than before, and with additional limitations to the photographs it produces. But can it last until a replacement is launched?
The "clock could be ticking" for the Hubble according to experts. Leicester University, professor Nial Tanvir said: "You can in principle, with relatively little impact, continue to observe with one gyro. It may place some limitations on which part of the sky you can look at any one time and take a little longer to move from one target to another.
"In that sense, it's not a catastrophe. However, if it's indicating another component on the telescope has died now, it does lead you to believe that the clock is ticking away on the overall lifetime. It would be a very great shame."
The Hubble Telescope will need to remain operational by at least 2021 before it can be replaced with its successor. NASA’s the James Webb Space Telescope which was actually due for launch in 2007, has been tipped to replace the Hubble in several years’ time. But insiders have said the new telescope, which features a bigger lens, is costing increasingly more which has contributed to its delay of more than a decade, launch.
The Verge reports an original lifetime budget of $1 billion has been recalculated to cost nine times that much, at $9.6 billion instead, which has led critics and investors to believe the telescopes are not providing value for money.
In 2017, Forbes reported the Hubble telescope was failing. It said the telescope was colliding with air molecules, "stripping it of a tiny" bit of speed each time. Nasa has reportedly "boosted" its height during service missions to counter act this natural phenomenon. But it was speculated that the gradual loss of time without frequent missions, would eventually lead the telescope to prematurely, fall towards earth and burn up in the atmosphere.
But if NASA can get the telescope back online and its failed gyroscope replaced or botched. It could still have some life left in it. Operators are working desperately to revive its last gyroscope, but if efforts remain successful its highly unlikely we will get to see spectacular images of the universe for at least another four-years as its lens would be stuck in a fixed position.