The aging Hubble Space Telescope is still in safe mode after an apparent hardware failure on June 13th. NASA initially hoped it would be a quick changeover to backup hardware, but the swapping in replacement hardware has not solved the problem. The team is still working on a solution, but it’s going to take a lot more troubleshooting to track down the glitch.
Hubble was designed with redundancy in mind, but many of its parts are getting on in years. While service missions following the original launch have upgraded its hardware, many of the core components are still based on decades-old technology. For example, the payload computer that appeared to be the original culprit is a Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 (NSSC-1) from the 1980s.
NASA has a full backup for the payload computer located on the Science Instrument and Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit. Late last week, the ground team attempted to switch on the backup computer for the first time. Previously, NASA confirmed switching to one of the three backup memory modules failed to fix the memory access error. However, the backup payload computer is experiencing the same issues.
Anyone who has ever found themselves troubleshooting a computer problem will have at least a hint of what the Hubble team is going through. NASA believes it’s unlikely that all these hardware components are malfunctioning at the same time, so there must be an issue elsewhere that is affecting all of them. This has sent NASA hunting through the spacecraft’s other components in search of the root cause.
One of the chief suspects is the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF), which is another module on the SI C&DH unit. Its job is to format commands going to the instruments and the data that comes back. The team is also inspecting the power regulator to see if it’s feeding incorrect voltage to the computers. Luckily, there are backups for both of these components on the spacecraft. NASA just needs to track down the cause.
Hubble has been in space for 31 years, and during that time it has expanded our understanding of the universe in ways we never expected. Hopefully, NASA can get the iconic observatory working again, but its successor is almost ready to take over. The long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope is supposed to launch late this year, but NASA recently had to postpone the Halloween launch. A new date hasn’t been set.
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