Hubble Trouble: NASA Works to Fix Space Telescope

Discovery shuttle deploys Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble was launched from the payload bay on Discovery in 1990.
NASA / Smithsonian Institution / Lockheed Corp.

NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope has hit a spot of bother, although the top isn’t but nigh (we hope). After greater than 30 groundbreaking years of discovery, the workhorse telescope ran into difficulties earlier this month when a pc shutdown compelled the telescope into protected mode. Now, engineers are sorting by means of choices and attainable options.

Problems with Hubble

The present spate of troubles started on June thirteenth, when the telescope’s fundamental payload pc unexpectedly shutdown. The workforce suspected a degraded reminiscence module because the perpetrator and deliberate to change over to considered one of three different backup modules. However, a number of makes an attempt to change over on June sixteenth and seventeenth weren’t profitable, and the telescope stays in protected mode.

As with all space missions, Hubble’s payload pc represents flight-proven and radiation-hardened tech obtainable on the time of launch and restore. Hubble’s authentic NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 (NSSC-1) and its subsequent alternative are from the late Eighties, full with 4 separate 64K Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) reminiscence modules. The system additionally has a whole backup payload pc for redundancy. The NSSC-1 is situated within the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling Unit (SI C&DH), and each had been changed in May 2009 through the ultimate restore mission of the space shuttle period. The authentic SI C&DH unit failed in 2008. To date, the backup unit has but to be powered on since preliminary set up in 2009, although it was completely examined on the bottom prior to launch.

“The backup payload computer was thoroughly tested on the ground prior to installation,” says Claire Andreoli (NASA-Goddard). “If there is a problem with it, the same process to identify the source of the problem and a potential fix would be initiated.”

Workers surround command and data handling unit in the lab.
The alternative SI C&DH unit, seen right here within the lab prior to its set up through the ultimate restore mission in 2009.

For now, the workforce is trying to see if the issue lies within the Standard Interface (STINT) software program or the Central Processing Module (CPM) itself. The workforce is engaged on procedures for a attainable switchover to the backup which, if crucial, will take a number of days of checkouts to attain operational standing.

“The team is currently designing tests that will be run in the next few days to attempt to further isolate the problem and identify a solution,” says Andreoli. “If the problem can’t be fixed, then the backup payload hardware will be turned on and it will take several days to assess the computer performance and restore normal science operations.”

Hubble’s Legacy

Launched on STS-31 space shuttle Discovery and launched from the shuttle’s payload bay on April 25, 1990, Hubble has been pushing again the boundaries of our understanding of the universe ever since.

But first, Hubble had to overcome defects in its optics found solely after it was deployed, issues that had been corrected through the first restore mission in December 1993. Since that point, Hubble has been on-hand to witness astronomical occasions close to and much, from the impression of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 into Jupiter in 1994, to the invention of the moons Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra round Pluto, to discovering distant supernovae in different galaxies.

Moons of Pluto, imaged by Hubble
A household portrait of the moons of Pluto.

Astronomers used the telescope to assemble our deepest views of the primordial universe, the Hubble Deep Fields. More lately, its Frontier Fields mosaics of large galaxy clusters have offered astronomers with their finest views of the most important, naturally occurring magnifying lenses.

Abell 370 (Frontier Fields)
The Frontier Fields picture of galaxy cluster Abell 370 peered into its central area to search for the distorted shapes of gravitationally lensed background galaxies.
NASA / ESA / J. Lotz / HFF Team (STScI)

Hubble additionally captured the general public’s creativeness with among the most iconic pictures of our era, such because the Pillars of Creation nestled within the Eagle Nebula (Messier 16). And though Hubble is finest recognized for its work at visible wavelengths, its capabilities prolong into the infrared and ultraviolet as effectively.

Pillars of Creation Hubb
Hubble’s portrait of the “Pillars of Creation” within the Eagle Nebula, taken with its Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 again in 1995, is arguably its most well-known picture ever. In 2014, Hubble revisited these towers of star formation with its Wide Field Camera 3 to seize a wider, extra detailed view in each seen (left) and infrared proper), revealing stars inside and past the nebula’s clouds of gas and dirt. This highly effective side-by-side demonstration helps visualize why so many astronomers are excited for Hubble to work alongside the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (STSCI / AURA)

The final restore mission in 2009 virtually didn’t occur. One of the necessities for shuttle missions after the 2003 Columbia catastrophe was for orbiters to attain the International Space Station; Hubble is in a special, increased orbit. As an answer, NASA had a second orbiter (Endeavour) on standby through the STS-125 restore mission, ought to a rescue be wanted.

The finish of the shuttle program in 2011 additionally marked the top of on-hand restore functionality for Hubble, as NASA now not has the means to attain and restore the space telescope. Astronauts did, nevertheless, set up deorbit functionality on Hubble throughout STS-125, for the day when the space telescope’s mission lastly comes to an finish.

At this level, the workforce would solely think about ending restoration efforts for Hubble “When we have exhausted all of the redundancy options,” says Andreoli. “But there are still so many we have not yet tried, and it is extremely likely that one of these will work.”

Two Shuttles
A uncommon sight: two space shuttles on the launch pads (Atlantis and Endeavour) for STS-125.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

If Hubble will get again up and operating, its operational life might overlap with the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in November this year. Often touted because the “successor to Hubble,” JWST will work at infrared wavelengths. Unlike Hubble, the Webb telescope is headed to the Lagrange (L2) level past the orbit of the Moon, placing it out of attain for restore.

If you reside between latitudes 30°N and 30°S, you possibly can routinely spot Hubble at daybreak or nightfall. When we lived in central Florida, Hubble was a well-recognized sight. Be certain to test Heavens-Above for passes.

With any luck, Hubble will quickly be open for enterprise as soon as once more.


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