Friday, July 9, 2021

NASA’s plan to fix Hubble gets some good news

 NASA’s quest to repair the Hubble Space Telescope and restart scientific observations has had some good news, though efforts to fix the aging spacecraft still present some serious risks. More than three decades old now, Hubble unexpectedly went into its so-called safe mode in mid-June after the payload computer responsible for managing the telescope shut down.

Safe mode is, as the name suggests, a protective state within which minimal ongoing damage is possible. At the time, NASA said that it had no indication that the Hubble spacecraft was damaged or malfunctioning, but efforts to power up the payload computer again met with failure.

By current Earth standards, the tech onboard Hubble is hardly cutting-edge. While the space telescope may be peering at galaxies billions of light years away, it’s running computers designed by NASA back in the 1970s. In fact, the instrument has two payload computers – located on the Science Instrument and Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit – with one acting as a backup.

In theory, NASA should be able to power up that backup and bring Hubble back online, but attempts to do that in late June 25 met with the same problem. Hubble was unable to write to, or read from, its memory banks.

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