Hubble
Photo: NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope team has temporarily suspended operations of Wide Field Camera 3 following a hardware glitch.

The camera contains redundant electronics in case of an issue, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute, so it will hopefully be fine. Still, this is the second notable hardware problem Hubble’s faced in a few months.

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NASA’s Hubble Twitter account first tweeted about the instrument on Tuesday, stating only that there had been a hardware problem. There have been no updates since then.

Hubble contains several instruments designed to record information about the stars, but the Wide Field Camera 3 is perhaps the most well known, because it takes visible-light pictures. Astronauts installed the instrument during Hubble’s final servicing mission in 2009. It replaced the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, the one that produced the famous Pillars of Creation image.

This most recent glitch follows another back in October when a gyroscope, one of six that monitor the telescope’s position and motion, failed. NASA fixed the telescope by essentially restarting it and wiggling it around.

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But these glitches combined demonstrate that Hubble is clearly showing its age. The final servicing mission in 2009 was supposed to keep the telescope functioning until 2013, yet five years later it’s still kicking, producing amazing images of the sky. As we’ve reported, Hubble’s scientists hope to keep the telescope operating perhaps until 2025. The James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble’s successor but not replacement, will hopefully launch in 2021.

I asked a spokesperson for the Space Telescope Science Institute, Christine Pulliam, whether the government shutdown will affect the repair. “In a nutshell, the government shutdown should not impact our response to the anomaly with WFC3,” she said. “The primary people we need in the Flight and Science Operations will be available to troubleshoot. A tiger team has already been activated.”

We’ll keep you updated on the status of this issue. Let’s hope the instrument goes back online soon.

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