The Hubble Space Telescope stopped collecting science data on 5 October, because of a problem with one of the gyroscopes that the observatory uses to orient itself on celestial targets. Mission controllers are investigating the problem and expect to have Hubble working again soon.

“Don’t worry, Hubble has many great years of science ahead,” says Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, which operates Hubble.

But the glitch underscores that the 2.4-metre Hubble, perhaps the most iconic space observatory in history, will eventually die. NASA’s decision to retire its space shuttles in 2011 means that astronauts cannot service the 28-year-old observatory as they once did.

On their last servicing mission in May 2009, astronauts replaced all six of Hubble’s gyroscopes. Three of those were of a new design meant to last much longer than the previous designs. The one that failed was the first of the new model to go.

Hubble can operate on just two gyroscopes, or even one, but that limits its ability to point at targets. Its successor, the 6.5-metre James Webb Space Telescope, will not launch until 2021 at the earliest.

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on October 8, 2018.