NASA’s Swift Observatory, which plays an important role in the study of the phenomenon of gamma ray bursts, has entered safe mode due to a problem.
A problem with NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, previously called the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer, forced it to suspend science operations and enter safe mode while the team investigated.
The space-based telescope is not one of the agency’s best-known missions. However, since it plays an important role in the research of an astronomical phenomenon called gamma ray bursts, its place in the scientific world is quite important.
Swift Observatory halts operation due to hardware failure
The Swift Observatory telescope experienced a suspected problem with faulty equipment earlier this week. In a brief post, NASA described the situation as follows:
On the evening of Tuesday, January 18, NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory entered safe mode, suspending scientific observations. The mission team is investigating a possible malfunction of one of the spacecraft’s reaction wheels as a cause.
Reaction wheels are components that allow the spacecraft to rotate to a very precise degree and help the telescope look in one direction. This is important for the task of studying gamma ray bursts, since Swift requires a high degree of precision. Explosions can last between a few milliseconds and a few minutes. Therefore, Swift should be able to observe these events quickly before they disappear.
To determine if the fault was indeed in the reaction wheels, the team turned it off so they could do more research. The good news is, there’s no shortage of other pieces of hardware. So, if necessary, the team believes they can continue to operate the observatory while five of its six wheels are operational.
In a statement, NASA said:
The team is working to restore science operations using five reaction wheels. The remaining five wheels are all operating as expected. It’s the first time Swift’s 17-year operations have seen a reaction wheel fail.