Science

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory Is Back In Action

NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory
Credits: NASA/CXC/SAO

Last week NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory entered safe mode, but scientists quickly found a way to get it back up and running, according to an update on Oct. 15. According to the announcement, the spacecraft is back to its “normal running mode” and should be back to operations soon.

“The cause of Chandra’s safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode,” NASA wrote in a press release.

The space agency explained that the telescope entered safe mode because of a small glitch in one of the spacecraft’s instruments used for pointing. Nevertheless, officials identified the cause of the problem, so the spacecraft will go back to observing nebulae, galaxies, black holes and quasars from Earth’s orbit by the end of the week.

The glitch occurred in one of Chandra’s gyroscopes, causing a three-second period of bad data, which caused the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft’s momentum. NASA explained that the wrong momentum indication initiated safe mode. The team has made a plan to switch gyroscopes and place the one experiencing an issue into reserve. Then they’ll test the gyroscope with a “series of pre-tested flight software patches” before continuing scientific operations.

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory was launched in 1999, which means it has been in operation for nearly two decades. It can observe the X-ray spectrum from heated gases and capture data on supernovas, super-heated material and black holes. Many discoveries have been credited to this amazing spacecraft, which has also help scientists understand dark matter better.

NASA discovered that Chandra had entered safe mode unexpectedly on the morning of Oct. 10. All of its instruments shut down, while its fundamental systems were powered on. The gyroscope helps steer the spacecraft and point it at the target astronomers are using it to observe and collect data on.

Unfortunately, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray observatory is not the only one of the space agency’s equipment experiencing gyroscope issues. Only a week before, one of the Hubble Space Telescope’s remaining gyroscopes failed, and now NASA is trying to get the backup gyro up and running, but without success so far. While Hubble can still work without the gyro replacement, it will be limited in its views and can’t steer itself in all directions.