For almost a month, the Hubble Space Telescope has stopped working due to a problem with one of its board computers. Its systems detected an anomaly on June 13 and implemented procedures to stop all unnecessary activity and close the hatch that protects the observation tools. Since then, NASA technicians have been trying to find a solution, but it will take longer than expected.
For more than 30 years in its orbit, at an average distance of 500 kilometers from Earth, Hubble has made it possible Note the location This was not possible before. He has photographed thousands of stars, galaxies and other celestial bodies in his life, helping astronomers to better understand the characteristics of the Milky Way, the details of the galaxy we see and the farthest stars it takes us billions of years to reach its light.
The Hubble is the size of a bus (13.2 meters long and 4.2 meters wide) and weighs about 11 tons. It was launched on April 24, 1990 Discovery of the space shuttle And in his career he required several maintenance interventions, carried out directly by the astronauts in orbit and thanks to the possibility of chopping his structure through a shuttle.
However, since 2011, NASA has been Shuttles stopped the space program This is not possible with the direct intervention of the telescope, which receives only a few updates from Earth, where technicians believe it can be fixed either by interfering with software or by using spare tools. At this point, the task seems to be harder than usual.
After the first error signals received by Hubble in mid-June, NASA thought there was a problem with a module that manages the computer memory of the telescope’s key tools for conducting scientific observations. On June 14, they tried to restart the computer, but the attempt failed. The technicians then switched to a spare module, but were unable to complete the sequence of commands required to execute it. Unable to obtain the data needed to conduct some analysis of the defects, they attempted to reactivate both modules.
NASA had decided to switch to a computer similar to the defunct computer installed at Hubble that could be used as an alternative to the original computer in the event of serious technical problems. At the end of June he tried to implement it with an unexpected result: even the backup computer gave the same errors of the device that needed to replace it. This means it was anywhere else and upstream from a bustling computer in mid-June.
In recent days, the focus of technologists has shifted to the “scientific tool and command and data manipulation” (SI C&DH), a unit that includes malfunctioning computers and other tools that enable communication with systems on the Hubble board. The problem may be in one of these units, but it is not easy to identify and it is not clear whether it can be easily solved by looking for other spare parts in the telescope.
Thirteen years ago, just days after the launch of the last space shuttle Atlantis mission to maintain telescopes, S.I. Something similar happened when C&DH closed. At the time, NASA decided to postpone the release in order for astronauts to install a new version of the unit at Hubble. The repairs happened in 2009 and went according to plan, but now that new piece seems to be causing problems.
Hubble is designed to be repaired by alien spacecraft (“spacewalks”). The Shuttle’s robotic arm is actually equipped with a space telescope that allows access to maintenance while orbiting the Earth, and in orbit. This possibility was necessary from the early years of Hubble’s use, when a serious problem appeared in his mirror for observation, which required a corrective intervention. However, the shuttles are no longer in service and the space capsules currently used to reach the International Space Station may not have the capability and capability to allow Hubble maintenance.
The last Official news The Hubble terms were issued by NASA until last June 30th. Technicians are still working to study the best solution to reactivate systems affected by malfunctions, but now no details have been released on how and when to repair the remote. The good news is that the problem only concerns some systems, but not the tools the telescope uses to make its observations: they are only turned off as a precaution.
Meanwhile, NASA is getting ready to launch James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), A large space telescope that allows observations to be made more accurately and in detail than what Hubble can do. The project has experienced significant delays, but except for unforeseen circumstances, everything should be ready to start in early autumn.
In recent days, some astronomers have expressed some concerns about Hubble’s condition because their research on galaxies, stars and other celestial bodies depends on the health of the telescope. However, NASA technicians maintain a cautious belief that they can fix the Hubble again using a little ingenuity and creativity.