Another space telescope shuts down – one week after Hubble

Less than a week after the Hubble Space Telescope went down due to a gyroscope problem, the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory has also gone offline.

NASA issued a press release today saying that Chandra automatically went into “safe mode” on Wednesday, and it may also be due to a gyroscope problem.

As previously reported, the Hubble Space Telescope  went into hibernation last Friday due to a gyroscope failure.

Some perspective – both orbiting telescopes are old and in well-extended missions: Hubble is 28 years since launch, while Chandra was launched 19 years ago. Unfortunately, NASA no longer has shuttle capability, so they cannot be serviced in orbit.

From the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory website:

At approximately 1355 GMT on October 10, 2018, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory entered Safe Mode, where the telescope’s instruments are put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun. Analysis of available data indicates the transition to safe mode was nominal, i.e., consistent with normal behavior for such an event. All systems functioned as expected and the scientific instruments are safe. The cause of the Safe Mode transition is currently under investigation, and we will post more information when it becomes available.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of 5 years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years. It is now well into its extended mission and it is expected to continue carrying out forefront science for many years to come.

101 thoughts on “Another space telescope shuts down – one week after Hubble

  1. Hmmm, I am going to go all out conspiracy theory. Land based telescope goes down now orbiting telescopes…what are they trying to hide??
    Lol j/k

  2. Unfortunately, NASA no longer has shuttle capability, so they cannot be serviced in orbit.

    Perhaps it’s time to redirect NASA’s funding back towards space. replace their climate change propaganda program(s) with a new Shuttle program.

    • We don’t need a new shuttle program. NASA should be contracting with private companies to fulfill its mission. Elon Musk has a working pagenger capsule and the Falcon 9 heavy lift vehicle. Both of which need more testing to be man rated, but both could be ready in a fairly short time frame.

        • My fear is that the USA will be renamed as a sector of the Global Socialist Republic within my lifetime, let alone 50 years. Embarrassment seems trivial to that.

      • Heck. The only country that sent people to the moon can’t reach the ISS in Low Earth Orbit without hitching a ride from the Russians.

        Don’t mention that to Apollo era astronauts. I was surprised at the reaction Harrison Schmitt when I asked if they ever thought we would not have returned to the moon by now. Instead, today we can’t get our sorry butts out of the atmosphere.

        • Russia came within a hair’s breadth of killing two last week.
          What is it with you and your desire to always see the worst of the American space program?

          • Also, we wouldn’t have lost Grissom, White and Chaffee in 1967 had the Soviets told the world about the fire which killed Bondarenko in 1961.

        • No. It was tragic. But I wonder why anyone expects that putting your butt on top of two SRBs with over 2.5 million pounds of thrust attached to a tank with over a 1.5 million pounds of LOX and propellent is not an inherently dangerous proposition in the first place?

          • I would take the ride in a heart beat. But it just kills me that so many people really don’t seem to appreciate how complex and risky it all is. I guess some people never grow out of the phase of believing that certain people or things are infallible. It gives them comfort when they go to the doctor to believe that person can’t make mistakes and has all the answers.

  3. I have to wonder why Mr. Putin is doing this. I mean, really, today, when unexpected things happen, everyone all says it’s Putin and the Russians, but I wonder why, that’s all. And realistically, do I really have to say /sarc?

    • Mr Putin is only the go-to for Earth-based stories. Space-based ones and the go-to is usually along the lines of “I’m not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens” 🙂

      • “I have to wonder why Mr. Putin is doing this.”

        Remember the Soviets cloned the shuttle. Maybe he wants to create a reason to get it flying again.

        Once he has worked out who is paying the Ukrainian mole to drill holes in all the Soyuz kit 😉

  4. >>
    It (Chandra) is now well into its extended mission and it is expected to continue carrying out forefront science for many years to come.

    Then again, maybe it won’t.


  5. I was working on space robotic system design in the ’80s, and had meetings at JSC with people who’d designed the Hubble for “manned” servicing. Had they only seriously considered designing it also for robotic system servicing, we could launch a servicing vehicle and fix the damned thing without a Shuttle.

  6. A couple of days ago a Russian rocket with two astronauts on board had rocket trouble during launch and the crew module had to make an emergency return to earth. All safe, thankfully.

    • Vuk, there’s a great phone app called ISS HD Live.
      Not only gives the location but also camera views with the ability to take screenshots. They also notify you of any events, such as the scrub of the latest soyuz docking. Highly recommended.

    • The ISS gets a steady supply of spare parts. At least they did until the Russians stopped new launches while they investigate the recent launch failure.

      • The ISS gets spare parts and supplies from other launch platforms besides the Russian Progress vessel.
        They can get parts and supplies with the European ATV, Japanese Kounotor, the American Dragon and Cygnus.

      • That investigation gives SpaceX some time to catch up. The dragon has fared well as a supply vehicle so far. Perhaps it will jump ahead in crew delivery too.

        Mark, what I think is missing from the ISS is a combination retrieval/emergency escape vehicle which could navigate and bring orbiting objects to the ISS, or provide a re-entry capable lifeboat for the ISS.

        • Here’s the acronym:
          Orbital Object Recovery Emergency Exit vehicle-
          They should love that at NASA. 👨‍🚀🛰

        • The ISS orbits pretty much all the time with at least one Soyuz capsule docked to it to serve as an emergency return-to-Earth “lifeboat”. Periodically, the older lifeboat Soyuz is replaced by one that has just arrived to avoid having any Soyuz system age too much while in orbit.

  7. We should be grateful that these instruments AND the Mars rovers have outlived their design lives.
    But like a car beyond 10 years, without regular service/part failure repair, the remaining useful life is just a crapshoot.
    Example 1. My relatively low milage Chicago 1999 Audi A4 blew the timing chain 3 years ago. $8 k and one new complete head system later, runs like new. We were lucky, the catastrophic failure killed valves but not pistons.
    Example 2. My relatively low milage 2000 BMW 325i just had to have the head gasket, the pan gasket, and the entire suspension rebuilt for $15k. All the critical rubber related parts failed within ~1.5 years.
    In both cases, repairs cost less than vehicle residual value. In space, those kinds of repairs are not possible.

  8. NASA needs an orbital transfer vehicle. It would be useful for all sorts of things like fixing satellites and going back and forth to the Moon and servicing that Solar Power Satellite we are going to build one of these days.

    • Not long ago, in a galaxy very, very near NASA announced a vision of permanent human colonization of space, which is problematic without a space craft.

      “In 2005, then NASA Administrator Michael Griffin [Current US Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering] identified space colonization as the ultimate goal of current spaceflight programs, saying:

      “… the goal isn’t just scientific exploration … it’s also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time … In the long run a single-planet species will not survive … If we humans want to survive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we must ultimately populate other planets. Now, today the technology is such that this is barely conceivable. We’re in the infancy of it. … I’m talking about that one day, I don’t know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it.” …”


      Spacecraft built for Humans

      • And an accept6ance that fertile humans will need to go to orbit.
        Fertile humans of both sexes.
        So prepare for the nineteen-year-olds in space.

        “… I’m talking about that one day, I don’t know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it.” …” – Yer man Griffin.


    • SpaceX will have the BFR up and ready for all of those tasks in a few years. If successful, they will be years ahead of NASA and Boeing designs in getting to deep space.

      • “. . . they will be years ahead of NASA and Boeing designs in getting to deep space.”

        Uhhh, to do what exactly, that has not already been done?

  9. Gotta hate it when the gyro goes tits up, that’s when you wish you payed a little more attention to the flight instructor, he told you what to do, you recall don’t you ?

  10. As the International Space Station is obviously in a stable obit, why can’t we place such objects in the same obit and close to the Station. That way servicing of such satillites would be easy and inexpenses, a shuttle similar to the one in the Star Trek type would be sufficient for most work, or tow it to the Space Station for heavier work.


    • > As the International Space Station is obviously in a stable obit

      Not really. The orbit decays due to atmospheric drag (YES!). and part of the standard supply delivery is fuel for occasional engine firings to maintain orbit. ISS orbits at approx 400 km (25 miles) above the earth’s surface. If it was abandoned, it would eventually drop down low enough to do a flaming atmospheric re-entry just like Skylab

      Why orbit so low that you run into some atmospheric drag, you ask? There’s this thing called the Van Allen Radiation belt
      > The inner Van Allen Belt extends typically from an altitude of 0.2 to 2 Earth radii
      > (L values of 1 to 3) or 1,000 km (620 mi) to 6,000 km (3,700 mi) above the Earth. In
      > certain cases when solar activity is stronger or in geographical areas such as the South Atlantic Anomaly,
      > the inner boundary may decline to roughly 200 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

      Radiation exposure during an ISS tour of duty is bad enough as it is. You do *NOT* want it flying around in the Van Allen Belt.

      • Yep, shooting straight through it is risky enough (Apollo went through the polar window to minimise the risk), but putting people in it for months at a time is about 100% deadly.

        • Ah!
          Do we have a potential solution for politicians – more-better than recall?

          Spend a year or two in the Van Allen belts???

          Just askin’???


  11. I wonder what Operating system the telescope was using. Being the hardware was over 19 years old, I might say it wore out. The age of solid state drives were not a thing back then, but hard drives were. I bet they never thought that servicing the device would be shut down over time, and they would not be able to be updated or replaced over time. The hardware running the computers systems my have just gone out due to age. Poor planning on shutting shuttle missions down.

    • I agree they retired the Space Shuttle too early. Now NASA is spending additional billions of dollars developing a new heavy-lift vehicle that is no more capable than was the Space Shuttle Launch System. NASA threw away a perfectly fine heavy-lift vehicle with the scrapping of the Space Shuttle.

      Be that as it may, NASA needs to get off their butts and reacquire NASA’s human access to space, and I don’t mean by buying seats on the Russian Soyuz.

      NASA needs to get its own new human-rated vehcile going and it needs to get the private contractors going on getting humans into space.

      Bureaucracies are slow as molasses. If they don’t have a visionary at the helm to cut through the red tape and keep things focused, then they go nowhere fast.

      • Tom,

        Shuttle missions were very expensive and needlessly dangerous, made worse by trying to adhere to NASA’s promised schedule to which couldn’t be safely kept. I was OK with shutting that system down. The reusable components didn’t pan out as expected.

        The problem IMO is that NASA didn’t have coming on line, or the Obama Administration didn’t want and Congress didn’t fund, an improved replacement.

  12. If they have lasted so long after their design life would it be true to say that they were over-engineered?

    Does this mean that they cost more than they should?

    • Great link.
      ” it was eventually concluded that the bearing failures and anomalies were in response to the environment, and likely caused by electrical discharge across the bearings due to rapid space craft charging in a volatile space plasma environment. ”
      They then found friction anomalies in ball bearings with modest charging tests.
      That would imply no damage if the system shutdown.

  13. Chandra couldn’t have been serviced by the shuttle in any case. It is in a very high eccentric orbit (perigee 14,000 km, apogee 135,000 km) far beyond the capability of the shuttle.

  14. Maybe the “Death Star”? . . . . Or another kind of unintended coincidence affecting the electronic gyroscopes.

    I would consult the inventer, Dean Kamen, and the tech used for his self-balancing personal transporter by Segway Inc.

      • One needs to be careful about terminology with regards to spacecraft systems. The term “gyroscopes” is more properly applied to mechanical of fiber-optic devices used to determine attitude, whereas the terms “reaction wheels” or “momentum wheels” are used to refer to larger mechanical devices used to store angular momentum about one of more spacecraft axes. This stored angular momentum can be used to rotate the spacecraft about it’s three principle axes in order to point the spacecraft as desired for any given scientific observation or emergency pointing “maneuver”.

  15. As i said when they decommissioned the shuttles – who the hell stops using something without the replacement for it being ready to take the job?

    That’s a definite backwards step; deliberate, perhaps. There seems to be a current trend in Western Lands of trying to cast us back some 100+years.

    • 100+ years plus 1 election. The extraterrestrial imperative – Apollo, Shuttle, is the breakout. As Trump just said nobody took a knee on the Moon.

      • I believe Elon Musk is currently designing a skintight spacesuit whose flexibility will make it easier to take a knew on any body.

    • Casey

      Unfortunately NASA Administrator Michael Griffin talked Pres. Bush into retiring the Shuttle and using the savings to fund Constellation, a system he designed. Before it could come online Obama killed the program. Results: America has not had a manned space flight program for 7 years.

  16. Uhhhh . . . due to Chandra Observatory’s particular high energy orbit (approximately 86,487 statute mile apogee and approximately 5,999 statute mile perigee), it would be impossible for anything similar to the US Space Shuttle to rendezvous and service this spacecraft.

  17. Cosmic ray counts are approaching Space Age highs, it will make it tougher for satellites to stay healthy.

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