Even the Hubble Space Telescope’s backup computer malfunctions

The Hubble Space Telescope orbiting the Earth. NASA

NASA has been trying to figure out what’s wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope for about two weeks, but the mystery has only just deepened.

Launched into orbit in 1990, the Hubble telescope is the most powerful space telescope in the world. Take pictures of star births and deaths, discover new moons around Pluto, and track two interstellar objects as they slither through our solar system. Hubble’s observations have allowed astronomers to calculate the age and expansion of the universe and observe galaxies that formed shortly after the Big Bang.

But the observatory orbiting the Earth did not do any scientific work for 12 days. The computer carrying the payload of the telescope – a machine from the 1980s that controls and monitors all of the spacecraft’s scientific instruments – suddenly stopped working on June 13.

Since then, the NASA Hubble team has been working on troubleshooting. But the team found that even if they couldn’t fix the computer, they could still switch to the Hubble payload’s backup computer.

But this week, NASA found that the backup computer was also down. So now he’s looking for a new explanation for Hubble’s mysterious problems.

NASA’s Hubble landed in a rabbit hole full of insects

During the Hubble Space Telescope’s first maintenance mission, astronauts fitted an array of specialized lenses to correct a defect in the main mirror. NASA

NASA first tried – to no avail – to restart the payload computer. Next, the team turned their attention to the degraded memory module as it was logging errors. The Hubble team thought this might be the root of the problem, but they weren’t so lucky either. The memory module and one of its three backup copies will not work. This indicates that the source of the problem was more than the source.

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The team began running diagnostic tests on other parts of the payload computer this week. They also decided to turn on the payload backup computer, which hasn’t turned on since astronauts installed it on the telescope in 2009. But the new computer showed the same errors, on the same hardware, as the original one.

This indicates that the payload computer may not be the problem after all. Maybe another system, always upstream.

“Since it is unlikely that all individual hardware components will have a problem, the team now considers other hardware as the likely culprit,” NASA said in a report. Blog update Friday.

The Hubble Space Telescope hovers at the boundary of Earth and space in this image, taken after the second Hubble Service mission in 1997. NASA

The Hubble team now believes that the culprit could be a unit that helps send commands to the telescope’s scientific instruments and prepare data from those instruments for sending back to Earth. This unit is called the Data Science Coordinator/Leadership Unit (CU/SDF).

NASA said the problem may be caused by a faulty power regulator. If the regulator is sending the wrong voltages to the Hubble devices, this could explain common problems.

The agency update says that NASA plans to continue evaluating other parts of the telescope over the next week. If a CU/SDF or power regulator appears to be the cause of the problem, the team considers moving to their own parts. (Hubble has so many backups that NASA no longer has any spacecraft that can carry astronauts to replace damaged parts.)

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Although Hubble is 31 years old, he has done more scientific work than ever in recent years. NASA hopes the telescope will continue to operate into the 1920s.

“Hubble is one of NASA’s most important missions in astrophysics. It has been in operation for more than 31 years and NASA hopes to continue for many more years,” a NASA spokesperson said. He told Insider earlier this week. “In terms of Hubble’s value to the scientific community, it is still the most powerful telescope available, so age is not a decision factor.”

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Frank Mccarthy

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