NASA’s Swift Observatory may have suffered an attitude control failure

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 21, 2022
Updated 2022/01/21 at 1:38 AM

NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory has struggled after 17 years of largely quiet service. The orbiting explorer has came in safety mode after detecting a “possible failure” in one of the six reaction wheels used to change attitude. While it’s unclear exactly what (if anything) went wrong, NASA has stopped steering-based scientific observations until it can either go right or continue five-wheel operations.

This is the first potential reaction wheel problem since the Swift Observatory began operations in February 2005, NASA said. The rest of the vehicle is working properly.

The Swift Observatory has played an important role in astronomy over the past two decades. It was built primarily to detect gamma-ray bursts and detects around 70 per day. However, it has increasingly been used as a comprehensive observer across multiple wavelengths, detecting solar flares and hard-to-find stars. NASA won’t necessarily be in serious trouble if Swift has a lasting problem, but it would clearly benefit from keeping the spacecraft running as smoothly as possible.

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