NASA’s Swift Observatory in Safe Mode – Team Investigating Possible Reaction Wheel Failure

An artist’s rendering of the Swift Observatory with a gamma-ray burst going off in the background. Credit: Spectrum and NASA E/PO, Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet

On the evening of Tuesday, January 18, 2022, NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory entered into safe mode, suspending pointed science observations. The mission team is investigating a possible failure of one of the spacecraft’s reaction wheels as the cause.

The team has powered off the suspected wheel. The observatory and all its instruments are otherwise healthy and operating as anticipated. The observatory will remain in safe mode as a precaution while the team further investigates the issue.

Swift has a total of six reaction wheels onboard. The team is working to restore science operations using five reaction wheels. The remaining five wheels are all working as expected. This is the first time a reaction wheel has experienced a failure in Swift’s 17 years of operations.

Swift studies high-energy events in the universe such as gamma ray bursts, which may come from black holes being born from dying stars.