NASA was able to bring Hubble Space Telescope’s backup payload computer online, according to a Twitter post from the telescope’s social media team. The announcement will bring a sigh of relief to space lovers, following a month of anxiety over whether the aging technology could be resuscitated at all after it slipped into a non-operational safety mode in mid-June.
Now 31 years old, Hubble is a senior citizen as far as space technology goes. Its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, is slated to launch this fall after numerous delays. Hubble has jumped into safe mode numerous times before, most recently in March. But this sojourn went on for so long that it was starting to seem possible that the telescope had finally observed its last galaxy.
At first, the NASA team believed that the telescope’s automatic shutdown could have been caused by an old memory module. But yesterday, the team settled on the Power Control Unit (PCU) as the real problem. The PCU powers the telescope’s payload computer constantly; if the 5 volts of electricity it provides ever falters or fluctuates, the telescope pauses its operations. Attempts to reset the PCU didn’t work, so NASA decided to switch to backup hardware. It was a desperate measure after numerous attempts to troubleshoot.
The switch to backup hardware evidently proved the cure. According to a NASA press release, the team has now begun recovering the scientific instruments aboard the spacecraft from their respective safe modes, a process that will take most of today. After they’re sure that the instruments are at stable temperatures and calibrated properly, Hubble will resume normal science operations.
Soon, the burden we put on this revered telescope will be lessened, as the powerful JWST telescope arrives in space and begins observing the cosmos. But it’d be great for the two to work in tandem and for Hubble to live to see its heir take the space telescope throne.