Have you ever been digging through your draws or cupboards and found an old piece of tech like a cellphone? The phone may not work and you may not have a charger for it so you toss it in the garbage (don’t do that though, please dispose of your ewaste responsibly).
But what if you needed that piece of tech and in addition you needed to switch it on from 547km away?
This is similar to a problem NASA faces with the Hubble Space Telescope which has been offline for more than a week now after its payload computer just stopped.
At first NASA reported a faulty memory module might be the cause of the fault but that is no longer the case after further tests were run.
“After performing tests on several of the computer’s memory modules, the results indicate that a different piece of computer hardware may have caused the problem, with the memory errors being only a symptom,” explained NASA.
The operations team at NASA is currently investigating whether the Standard Interface hardware which bridges comms between the Central Processing Module and other components is responsible for the fault.
If an issue is discovered, the team will switch to a backup payload computer.
Here’s the thing though, much like the cellphone in our analogy, the payload hasn’t been booted up since it was installed in 2009. NASA says that the computer was thoroughly tested on the ground before installation.
Unfortunately, the best NASA can do right now is test different things as director of astrophysics for NASA, Paul Hertz, told NPR.
“If this computer were in the lab, we’d be hooking up monitors and testing the inputs and outputs all over the place, and would be really quick to diagnose it,” said Hertz. “All we can do is send a command from our limited set of commands and then see what data comes out of the computer and then send that data down and try to analyse it.”
Can NASA and SpaceX shoot up to repair it? Not exactly. The Hubble Space Telescope was designed to be serviced by the space shuttle, which no longer exists.
There’s also the matter of the James Webb telescope being launched later this year.
If the secondary computer aboard Hubble doesn’t work as intended, we’re not sure what NASA will do next. Here’s hoping Hubble continues to observe our galaxy, and doesn’t meet it’s watery grave soon.
[Source – NASA]