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Chandra X-ray telescope is back at work

Chandra X-Ray Observatory
An artist’s conception shows the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. (NASA / CXC / SAO Illustration)

NASA’s 19-year-old Chandra X-ray Observatory has been returned to its normal pointing mode after a data glitch forced a five-day outage, NASA said today.

The bus-sized spacecraft went into safe mode on Oct. 10, bringing science observations to a halt. The Chandra mission’s operation team determined that the outage was caused by a fault in one of the gyroscopes used by Chandra’s pointing system. That fault resulted in a three-second period of bad data, which led the onboard computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft’s momentum, NASA said in today’s status update.

The erroneous reading triggered the safe-mode condition, which caused Chandra to swap critical hardware operations to backup units and reconfigure its mirrors and solar panels to avoid the risk of damage.

Chandra’s operation team diagnosed the problem and switched gyroscopes to get the pointing system up and running again. The gyroscope that experienced the glitch has been placed in reserve.

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Gyro glitch hits Chandra X-ray telescope

Chandra X-Ray Observatory
An artist’s conception shows the Chandra X-ray Observatory. (NASA / CXC / SAO Illustration)

Even as experts worked on ways to get the Hubble Space Telescope back doing science, another one of NASA’s Great Observatories in space — the Chandra X-ray Observatory — went into safe mode as well.

NASA said the 19-year-old X-ray telescope put itself into hibernation on Oct. 10, possibly due to an issue with its gyroscopic pointing system. A gyro failure was behind the 28-year-old Hubble’s transition to safe mode last week.

Due to the glitch, Chandra swapped critical hardware operations to backup units and pointed its solar panels to soak up the maximum amount of sunlight, while pointing its mirrors away from the sun to minimize the risk of damage.

“All systems functioned as expected and the scientific instruments are safe,” NASA said in a status update issued Oct. 12.

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