The Hubble Telescope has been offline for more than a week as of time of writing due to a computer error.
On Sunday 13th June, a computer aboard the Hubble Telescope stopped working and despite several attempts at a restart, the science instruments aboard the telescope remain in safe mode.
While NASA says the issues point to a “degrading computer memory module” as a reason for the stop in operations solving that issue appears to be rather complex.
As one would rightly assume, there is a back-up aboard the telescope but switching to that backup has failed to yield any results.
“When the operations team attempted to switch to a back-up memory module, however, the command to initiate the backup module failed to complete. Another attempt was conducted on both modules Thursday evening to obtain more diagnostic information while again trying to bring those memory modules online. However, those attempts were not successful,” NASA reported on Friday.
It’s worth remembering that the Hubble Telescope was launched in 1990 and the equipment aboard it – while cutting edge at the time – hasn’t aged well.
The computer that controls, monitors and coordinates the scientific instruments aboard Hubble is a NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 which was built in the 1980s.
There is a second computer aboard Hubble for redundancy so that a switch over can occur in the event of a problem. It’s unclear whether this switch over has been attempted and if it has, one has to wonder whether Hubble is dead in the erm, orbit of Earth.
If that is indeed the case then the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope – which is billed as Hubble’s successor – can’t come soon enough.
While there have been numerous Hubble servicing missions in the past, with the launch of the James Webb telescope set for October 2021, we aren’t sure NASA wants to spend money on tech that will be replaced foreseeably soon after a mission can be planned and launched.
The James Webb telescope is said to be 100 times more powerful than Hubble meaning it will likely help scientists uncover the secrets of the universe, the Big Bang and more.
Notably, the James Webb telescope won’t orbit the Earth but rather the Sun. The telescope will orbit the sun, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in a region known as the second Lagrange point.
“What is special about this orbit is that it lets the telescope stay in line with the Earth as it moves around the Sun. This allows the satellite’s large sunshield to protect the telescope from the light and heat of the Sun and Earth (and Moon),” NASA explains in a blog post.
With 30 years of work under its belt, if this is the end for Hubble it will be sad but it’s done more than we could have ever imagined a telescope built in the 1980s could do.