Nearly three weeks ago, the Hubble Space Telescope took itself offline. NASA has been scrambling since then to determine the root cause and resolve the issue, but troubleshooting a highly technical device that’s in space isn’t the easiest task.
Workers have narrowed down the cause since the June 13 shutoff, and figured out a slew of things that aren’t at fault, but a more precise issue has yet to be detected. And because no steps can be taken to resolve the issue until at least even a general cause is found, diagnosis is still ongoing. In the meantime, the telescope and its instruments are stored in a safe configuration.
Currently, NASA believes the problem is caused by something within the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling unit, which contains the payload computer system. Given that this module contains a control processor, memory module, communications bus, and a processor that formats data and commands so the controller can communicate with the other instruments (and transmit data to Earth), there’s still a lot to dig through.
An initial investigation indicated the memory module was at fault, so the first thing the workers did was switch over to one of the three backup memory modules. That did not have any effect, however, and after trying all three of the backups, Hubble still failed to write to or read the memory.
The team now thinks the problem could lie elsewhere, and they are now investigating other prime candidates like the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter and the Power Control Unit. If either of these are deemed to be the problem, it’ll require a “more complicated operations procedure to switch to the backup units” than the ones the team carried out on June 23 and 24.
The historic telescope was launched more than 30 years ago and, since then, has made over 600,000 observations (like the accelerating expansion of the universe) that have helped NASA and other institutions explore and gain a better understanding of the universe around us and take some of the most stunning images we have of objects in space. Scientists have previously been able to fix other issues Hubble has had, like a failed data formatter in 2008, so there is reason to stay positive with this issue.
Hopefully NASA is able to determine what caused the problem and get the one-of-a-kind telescope back up and running, as the information Hubble provides us is invaluable. We want to keep it around for years to come!