After a month-long hiatus, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope resumed science operations on July 17 after operators successfully transferred the orbiting observatory by the backup payload computer. The equipment of the telescope, which is 31-year-old, is now operating, NASA announced. This is after about five weeks after the payload computer that controls the equipment failed. After the calibrations are completed, those devices will return to normal science observations.
Engineers determined that a malfunction of the power control unit, which delivers voltage to the computer’s hardware, was the most likely source of the payload computer problem after weeks of investigation. Engineers chose to use backup Science Instrument Command and the Data Handling hardware, which has its power control unit, because they couldn’t reset the power control unit from the ground.
The switch to backup hardware began on July 15, and NASA announced success in switching on the backup computer system on July 16. By July 17, controllers had reactivated the science instruments, which had been in safe mode since the payload computer crashed on June 13.
In a July 17 statement announcing Hubble’s recovery, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson remarked, “I’m proud of the Hubble crew, from present members to the Hubble alumni who moved in to provide their assistance and knowledge.” “Hubble will continue to expand on its 31-year legacy thanks to their commitment and smart effort, expanding our horizons with its picture of the universe.”
The weeks-long struggle to return Hubble to normal performance, one of the telescope’s longest outages in recent times, heightened fears about the telescope’s future, especially given the telescope’s last servicing mission was in 2009, more than a decade ago. During this current problem, NASA officials claimed they were taking a careful approach to reviving Hubble to avoid worsening the situation. At a June 29 meeting, Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s astrophysics division, said, “I have issued the Hubble team a particular pathway that returning Hubble safely to operation and not mistakenly doing any damage to the system is the utmost goal, not speed.” “Although we’re all eager to get Hubble back to work on research, the most important thing is to be cautious and meticulous and not rush.”
He stated at the time that the careful approach comprised two layers of assessment of all procedures being established to address the issue. Before sending the protocols to the telescope, NASA employed a “high-fidelity simulator” to test them. Despite recent problems, astronomers believe Hubble will keep operating long into the next decade. Officials from the Space Telescope Science Institute indicated they were working on measures to prolong the telescope’s life and its equipment to 2030 at an American Astronomical Society meeting in early June before this current issue was published.