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The Hubble Space Telescope is facing an unprecedented problem after 31 years in space

The Hubble Space Telescope is facing an unprecedented problem after 31 years in space

The Hubble telescope’s on-board system has not responded since June 13, 2021. In the history of this long-lived space laboratory, this is the most unprecedented issue.

NASA is constantly investigating to understand What’s going on at Hubble, the telescope outside of its service. Since June 13, the prestigious laboratory has encountered a computer problem and scientific observations have been suspended. As of June 30, the space agency said the issue had not been resolved. In a press release Updated regularly. He pointed out that the diagnosis was ongoing and that activities were underway to launch a backup system.

“We’re all a little scared”

For astronomers, the crash is surprisingly worrying. ” We’re all a little scared of what’s going on at Hubble and have regular worries about how it works. ஆலோ, Alody Socket, astronomer at the Astronomical Laboratory in Marseille, interviewed by Numarama. This is not the first time the telescope has encountered difficulties in 31 years of operation in space.

« In the past, there was a continuing problem, which included telescopic gyroscopes. In order to observe the stars we are interested in, they make it possible to measure its speed and its orientation in space. Hubble has six. Three gyroscopes are needed to position itself, the others are in the backup. Every time there is someone who dies, we are all very sad because we know that it is approaching the end of the telescope, even though up to now a backup has allowed the gyroscope to continue to function », Continues the expert. Today, three gyroscopes are broken, so there is no front.

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What is the Hubble Onboard System used for?

Since 1990, various technical problems have already arisen at Hubble without endangering the life of the telescope orbiting the Earth tirelessly. But this time, the astronomer explains, ” This is a slightly different issue. It is not a broken gyroscope. There, it is a payload computer, an on-board computer that controls the instruments in the telescope. This may be even worse because the scientific tools themselves are healthy, but in the end, there is some frustration: the problem with the system is blocking all functions. ” At Hubble, there are scientific tools that allow us to manipulate the telescope and direct it toward the goals we are most interested in., Continues Élodie Choquet. The on-board system sends commands to these tools. »

Hubble seen from space shuttle. // Source: NASA (carved photo)

A Project B: Backup System

Now, if the system does not respond, it is obvious that Hubble would not have been launched into space without Plan B. “In space telescopes and satellites, there is always a technical problem, which means that the duplicate or triple components are used to use the backup solution. », Explains Élodie Choquet. At Hubble, a back-up board system is planned.

for now, ” NASA has not yet attempted to launch the standby system. Before using a rigorous solution to use a backup, they do one of the following diagnostics and tests. 2, describes the expert. It is imperative to understand where the cause of the problem is coming from before considering any manipulations. ” If you make a mistake without fully understanding what is going on, there is a risk of damaging the tools or a second board system. 2, underscores the astronomer.

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Questions were sent to the computer

In short, what are the procedures currently being implemented by NASA? These refer to diagnoses, Élodie Choquet. ” Commands are sent to the telescope to see if the system responds. These are not commands to control the instruments or commands to move the telescope, but rather to request information from the on-board computer, for example, to see if it has access to its memory, to its interactions with the instruments. The expert says you have to imagine these as questions sent to the computer.

The sluggishness of the practices is clearly explained by the incredibly long lifespan of the Hubble telescope compared to its rivals. ” Its components, including the computer, are very old. Not only has it been in space for 30 years, the technology in it is still outdated. Time to design a task ten years ago or more. When you design a telescope, you choose safe, robust, proven technologies to make sure it works in space. We are not moving much towards modernity, we are moving towards solidity. This old and proven material does not make the task easier to solve quickly. The on-board system was replaced 13 years ago, last during maintenance work in 2009 (which is already old).

Let’s not forget that Hubble was originally planned for a 15-year mission. ” So it has exceeded expectations a lot in terms of longevity, especially thanks to these popular service plans [ndlr : les missions de maintenance] It’s up to the astronauts to fix it five times! », Completes Élodie Choquet.

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