For the past two weeks, NASA has been trying to find out what went wrong with the Hubble Space Telescope, but the mystery is getting deeper and deeper.
Hubble launched into orbit in 1990 and is the most powerful space telescope in the world. It captured images of the birth and death of stars, discovered new moons around Pluto, and tracked two interstellar objects as they passed through our solar system. Hubble’s observations allowed astronomers to calculate the age and expansion of the universe and observe galaxies that formed shortly after the Big Bang.
But the Earth Orbiting Observatory has not done any scientific work for 12 days. The telescope’s payload computer-a machine from the 1980s that used all scientific instruments to control and monitor spacecraft-suddenly stopped working on June 13.
Since then, NASA’s Hubble team has been troubleshooting. But the team believes that even if they cannot repair the computer, they can switch to Hubble’s backup payload computer at any time.
However, this week, NASA discovered that the backup computer was also malfunctioning. So now it is looking for new explanations for Hubble’s mysterious problem.
Hubble plunged NASA into a rabbit hole of glitches
NASA first tried-failed-to restart the payload computer. Then the team turned its attention to the degraded memory module because it was logging errors. The Hubble team thought that this might be the source of the problem, but no luck. The memory module and one of its three backups are not working. This shows that the source of the problem lies further upstream.
The team began diagnostic tests on other parts of the payload computer this week. They also decided to activate the backup payload computer, which has not been turned on since the astronauts installed it on the telescope in 2009. But the new computer showed the same errors as the original computer on the same hardware.
This shows that loading the computer may not be a problem after all. This may be another system, further upstream.
NASA said in a statement: “Because all individual hardware elements are unlikely to have problems, the team is now considering other hardware as possible culprits.” Blog update on Friday.
The Hubble team now believes that the culprit may be a module that helps send commands to the telescope’s scientific instruments and prepare the data from these instruments to return to Earth. This module is called Command Unit/Scientific Data Formatter (CU/SDF).
NASA stated that this problem may also be caused by a malfunctioning power conditioner. If the regulator sends the wrong voltage to Hubble’s hardware, this can explain the widespread problem.
The latest news from the agency said that NASA plans to continue to evaluate other parts of the telescope next week. If it seems that the CU/SDF or power conditioner is the cause of the problem, the team plans to switch to their respective spare parts. (Hubble has a lot of backups because NASA no longer has a spacecraft that can take astronauts there to replace defective parts.)
Although Hubble is 31 years old, it has done more scientific work in the past few years than ever before. NASA hopes to keep the telescope in good condition in the 2020s.
“Hubble is one of NASA’s most important astrophysics missions. It has been in operation for more than 31 years, and NASA hopes it will last for more years,” a NASA spokesperson Told Insider earlier this week“From the perspective of Hubble’s value to the scientific community, it is still the most powerful telescope so far, so age is not the determining factor.”