October 24, 2008

Hubble Telescope Back In Business

The Hubble Space Telescope will continue science operations on Saturday, say NASA officials, after a three week period of inactivity. The collapse of a command unit made it essential that the telescope be positioned into a "safe mode".

NASA engineers have located two glitches that caused the circling Hubble Space Telescope to shut down. NASA said Thursday that they revived one of the computers that was affected by the glitch.

If everything goes to plan, the telescope should become operational on Saturday, NASA officials announced to reporters.

"Observations with the wide field camera will resume this weekend," said Art Whipple of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Efforts to activate a backup system were delayed last week after an electrical problem, but evaluations have shown there is no permanent harm.

The telescope's Wide-field and Planetary Camera 2 is anticipated to be active Saturday morning, "and it will start doing science almost immediately", said Whipple.

The computer collapse required NASA to postpone its final Hubble servicing mission, first planned to launch last week, until February at the earliest.

The telescope, which orbits 300 miles above the Earth, has altered the view of the Universe for scientists, sending back pictures of stars being born, and confirming unexplained energy forces in space.

The computer that stopped working transmitted these pictures back to Earth, which required NASA to use a back-up that had never been used since Hubble launched in 1990.

"This is the first time we have turned it on in 18 years and we will have to see how it goes," Whipple said.

The problems were the result of a timing error in a software test, but the others issues seem to have been electrical, NASA said.

"We cannot know the exact cause, of course, because we cannot get to the hardware. All we can say is that it appears to have been an electrical event," said Whipple. "Events of these kinds are not uncommon in electrical components that have been powered off for a time," Whipple added.

Luckily, the irregularity "does not appear to have done any permanent damage," he added. "It did not blow any fuses. There was no harm done to any other instruments."

NASA is deciding in November if the original faulty system will be replaced in the next servicing mission. The expectation is to allow the observatory to be operational for five additional years, and improve the instruments.

"We will leave Hubble in a redundant state," Whipple confirmed.


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