NASA is working to restore Hubble Space Telescope operations

Shane McGlaun - Jun 19, 2021, 12:13pm CDT
NASA is working to restore Hubble Space Telescope operations

The Hubble Space Telescope has been having significant troubles in orbit recently as the telescope went into safe mode after the failure of an onboard computer. NASA has confirmed that operations are underway to restore the payload computer on the Hubble telescope. Operations teams are running tests and collecting more information on the system to isolate the problem further.

While the computer is having problems, science instruments will remain in safe mode. NASA says the telescope itself and the science instruments remain in good health. The computer crash happened on Sunday, June 13. Mission controllers attempted to restart the computer on Monday, June 14. However, that restart failed, and indications point to a degrading computer memory module as the source of the problem.

The operations team attempted to switch the computer to a backup memory module, but the command to initiate the backup module failed to complete. So NASA conducted further checks on both modules, and on Thursday of last week, they were able to obtain diagnostic information while trying to bring the memory modules online. However, those attempts also proved unsuccessful.

The payload computer is a NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 that was built in the 80s. It’s located on the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling unit. The purpose of the computer is to both control and coordinate science instruments and monitor them for health and safety. It is a fully redundant system with a second computer, along with associated hardware on board that can be switched over in the event of a problem.

NASA says both the primary and secondary computers can use any of the four independent memory modules, each containing 64 kilobits of CMOS memory. The payload computer is only capable of using a single memory module operationally at one time. The other three modules are there as backups. Researchers and mission controllers at NASA are continuing to attempt to repair Hubble. The telescope is an important science instrument, but it will be outdone by the more powerful James Webb Space Telescope.


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