Hubble Has Returned! The World’s Most Powerful Space Telescope Is Saved Through A Dangerous Manoeuvre
NASA has finally resolved a puzzling issue with the Hubble Space Telescope after weeks of troubleshooting.
The NASA said on Friday that Hubble has successfully restored backups to the defective hardware that forced the spacecraft’s shutdown more than a month ago. Now, NASA engineers are gradually resuming full operation of the telescope. The procedure may take many days.
“I was quite worried,” NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen admitted in a Friday video interview with Nzinga Tull, the Hubble team’s troubleshooting leader. “We all knew this was riskier than [what]we normally do.”
Hubble is the world’s most powerful space telescope, but it is reaching the end of its useful life. In 1990, it was launched into orbit. It has captured images of stars being born and dying, discovered new moons around Pluto, and monitored two intergalactic objects racing past our Solar System.
Its observations have enabled astronomers to determine the Universe’s age and expansion and to peek into galaxies that formed just after the Big Bang.
Even though NASA has most likely resolved the issue, it is a hint that Hubble’s age is beginning to affect its science. Since 2009, the telescope has remained unchanged, although some of its hardware is more than 30 years old.
“This is an older equipment, and it is communicating with us by saying: Look, I am getting a little bit old here, right? It is communicating with us “According to Zurbuchen. “Despite that, more science is ahead, and we’re excited about it.”
A calculated risk enabled the world’s most powerful space telescope to be spared.
On June 13, Hubble’s payload computer — a 1980s processor that operates and monitors the spacecraft’s science instruments – abruptly ceased to function. Engineers attempted and failed multiple times to get it back online.
After doing additional diagnostic tests, they determined that the computer was not the cause of the shutdown but rather some other component on the spacecraft.
It is yet unclear which piece of gear was to blame. Engineers believe the payload computer was shut down as a result of a failsafe on the telescope’s Power Control Unit (PCU). The PCU may have sent the incorrect voltage of electricity to the computer, or the failsafe itself may have failed.
However, NASA was prepared for situations such as these. Each component of Hubble’s gear is pre-installed on the telescope as a backup in the event of a failure. As a result, engineers just needed to switch to the backup hardware.
NASA has previously reset Hubble using this method. In 2008, following a two-week outage caused by a computer disaster, engineers moved to redundant hardware.
Astronauts fixed two broken instruments in orbit a year later — it was Hubble’s fifth and last servicing operation. (NASA no longer has a launch vehicle capable of transporting astronauts to the space telescope.)
Nonetheless, this week’s hardware swap was a dangerous move.
“You cannot see the spaceship and so cannot witness the launch. You must ensure that your command uploads perform exactly as you expect “According to Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics branch, Insider spoke with him last week.
“You just don’t want to accidentally break anything,” he added.
It did not help that experts could not simply replace the faulty PCU. Because the unit is connected to numerous other components, NASA was had to replace additional hardware as well.
Additionally, the agency used the backup payload computer rather than the original, for added security. It powered on properly, experts updated the software, and it is currently operating in “normal operations mode” NASA reported in a Friday update.
“I feel super excited and relieved,” Tull stated. “Glad to have good news to share.”
Above: Hubble’s 2015 image of the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation.
Restoring Hubble to its science mission will take several days.
The Hubble team must now begin commissioning the telescope’s science instruments. According to Hertz, it could take up to a week to resume normal operations.
There is still one unsolved mystery: Why did the telescope cease to function in the first place?
Whatever the malfunctioning hardware is, Hubble has lost its backup. If it fails again, Hubble may be lost.
“Whatever that component is, it’s in lots of other satellites,” Hertz explained. “We always want to understand what works and what doesn’t work in space.”
Business Insider originally published this article.
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