Only two of those enhanced gyros are now running.
Failing gyroscopes are not uncommon, so Hubble was equipped with six new ones (which included backups in case of failure) on a 2009 mission to service the telescope, which was launched all the way back in 1990. As a result, Hubble is in so-called safe mode with non-essential systems turned off.
But it has been in "safe mode" since Friday after one of the three gyroscopes used to aim and steady the telescope failed.
"There isn't much difference between 2- [gyros] and 1, and it buys lots of extra observing time", tweeted Rachel Osten, the deputy mission head for Hubble at the Space Telescope Science Institute, late October 7. But it can continue to provide observations with just one functioning gyroscope.
Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute staff are now working out what can be done to "recover the gyro to operational performance", and an "Anomaly Review Board" has been put together to develop a recovery plan. The current problem, though, is a reminder that, with the retirement of the shuttle, NASA now lacks a means to fix or upgrade Hubble.
The agency, though, said it didn't expect Hubble to cease operations any time soon, as its instruments and other key components are working normally.
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Osten also noted that the team has had a "very stressful weekend" and that the Hubble is now "in safe mode while we figure out what to do".
'The gyro lasted about six months longer than we thought it would (almost pulled the plug on it back in the spring).
Update for 12:50 p.m. PT Oct. 8: We've added NASA's statement on the gyro issue.
One of the telescope's most famous images is a portion of the Eagle Nebula, known as the "Pillars of Creation", which shows three columns of cold gas illuminated by light from a cluster of young stars.
'Which the Astro community wants desperately.
Astronomers are anxiously awaiting the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for 2021, but until then Hubble remains the most powerful space telescope in the sky - and the best tool for peering deep into space. That way, Hubble has a longer total lifespan.