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This is one reason why NASA sought to install three enhanced gyros on the telescope in 2009. Thus, each problem brings the telescope, one of the most famous and productive observatories in the history of astronomy, one step closer to its eventual end.

The Hubble Space Telescope sports six high-speed gyroscopes which help it accurately aim and move from target to target while keeping it in a fixed position.

The Hubble telescope has three pairs of two gyroscopes, with each match composed of a paramount and back up gyroscope.

Hubble's successor, James Webb, the large space American telescope after successive delays, will not be launched before 2021. Staff at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute are now performing analyses and tests to determine what options are available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

The gyro that failed is one of three in service keeping the telescope aimed and steady, NASA said, and it had been "exhibiting end-of-life behavior for approximately a year" so "its failure was not unexpected". The space agency still hopes that it can recover the third enhanced gyroscope and resume normal science operations.

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NASA announced Monday that one of Hubble's gyroscopes failed last Friday.

NASA was quick to offer reassurance: "Hubble's instruments still are fully operational and are expected to produce excellent science for years to come", public affairs officer Felicia Chou wrote in an update on the NASA website. The three remaining gyroscopes have been enhanced, and - in theory at least - will have much longer operational lives than the three failed gyroscopes. The space shuttle Atlantis' mission is to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope in order to extend its working life. There is a third gyro that might be able to work, but last time NASA tested it there were some issues.

The telescope, in low orbit around the Earth since its launch in 1990, was last outfitted with six new gyros in a servicing mission in 2009, according to NASA. If the outcome of this investigation results in recovery of the malfunctioning gyro, Hubble will resume science operations in its standard three-gyro configuration. NASA assures that there will be a relatively limited impact on overall scientific capabilities in this mode, though acknowledges there will also be less sky coverage at any particular time.

She explained that there are plans in place to deal with the eventuality of the HST dropping down to a one-gyro mode when two remained.