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Hubble Space Telescope Hit with Computer Trouble, Halting Science Work

Hubble Space Telescope Hit with Computer Trouble, Halting Science Work

Operations Underway to Restore Payload Computer

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that the famous Hubble Space Telescope has been hit with computer trouble and halted all its astronomical viewing.

The orbiting observatory has been idle since Sunday when a 1980s-era computer that controls the science instruments shut down, possibly because of a bad memory board.

Flight controllers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland tried to restart the computer Monday, but the same thing happened. They’re now trying to switch to a backup memory unit. If that works, the telescope will be tested for a day, before the science instruments are turned back on and observations can resume.

For now, the cameras and other instruments are in a so-called safe mode.

Launched in 1990, Hubble is showing more and more signs of aging, despite a series of repairs and updates by spacewalking astronauts during NASA’s shuttle era. The idled computer was installed during the fifth and final service call in 2009.

It is the payload computer that coordinates all instrument activity that is at the heart of the problem.

The purpose of the payload computer is to control and coordinate the science instruments onboard the spacecraft. After the halt occurred on Sunday, the main computer stopped receiving a “keep-alive” signal, which is a standard handshake between the payload and main spacecraft computers to indicate all is well. The main computer then automatically placed all science instruments in a safe mode configuration.

Fortunately, NASA has a replacement unit that is almost ready to launch.

NASA plans to launch Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, in November. This observatory will be too far from Earth—1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away in a solar orbit—for astronaut tune-ups. The launch from French Guiana using Europe’s Ariane rocket is years behind schedule; the latest delay of two weeks is the result of rocket processing and scheduling issues.

Scientists hope to have an overlap in orbit between Hubble and the considerably more advanced and powerful Webb.

The last image in the news that Hubble took was a spiral galaxy previously identified as the site of a supernova.

This image, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, features the spiral galaxy NGC 4680. Two other galaxies, at the far right and bottom center of the image, flank NGC 4680. NGC 4680 enjoyed a wave of attention in 1997, as it played host to a supernova explosion known as SN 1997bp. Australian amateur astronomer Robert Evans identified the supernova and has identified an extraordinary 42 supernova explosions.

This video features many of the iconic space images captured by the Hubble Telescope.

I sure hope Hubble’s computer can be restored, as the instrument has undoubtedly played an essential part in understanding the universe.


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The Friendly Grizzly | June 17, 2021 at 6:19 pm

that iOS 14 messed up everything…!

It’s too bad America’s glory days are behind us. Not too long ago the Shuttle would be used to bring astronauts to repair the Hubble. We are at the end of the average run for empires, around 240 years. It was a good run.