Hubble Space Telescope sails serenely on in safe mode after efforts to switch to backup memory modules fail

Have you tried turning it off and on again?


Updated The Hubble Space Telescope has continued to resist efforts by NASA last week to bring its payload computer back online.

It has now been more than a week since the computer halted on Sunday 13 June. An attempt to restart it the following Monday failed with initial indications pointing to a failing memory module.

At the time, a NASA spokesperson told The Register that the veteran telescope only required one of its four memory modules and so planned to swap to a backup module in order to resume operations.

According to NASA, "the command to initiate the backup module failed to complete." The team had another crack at bringing up both modules on Thursday 17 June but again failed.

While Hubble was designed to be serviceable by astronauts, its hardware is also highly redundant. As well as the four memory modules, there are two onboard computers. Only one is required for normal operations and the telescope can switch over to the other in the event of a problem. Both can access and use any one of those four independent memory modules, each of which contains 64K of CMOS memory.

The payload computer itself is a NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 (NSSC-1) system built in the 1980s. Although the telescope and its science instruments remain in good health, the computer is required to coordinate and monitor the payload.

"The operations team will be running tests and collecting more information on the system to further isolate the problem," said NASA.

The issue follows others suffered by the ageing spacecraft. A broken bit of code sent the poor thing into a safe mode earlier this year and Hubble's aperture door failed to close.

The last servicing mission was 2009's STS 125, and the orbiters that were capable of ferrying astronauts and spare parts to the telescope are now sat in museums around the United States. Despite wishful thinking by some SpaceX fans, a further fix-it flight is highly unlikely, particularly since the James Webb Space Telescope is finally set for launch in the coming months. ®

Updated to add at 14:08 UTC:

A NASA spokesperson got in touch to tell The Register that the team was continuing to work on the payload computer issue, and were gathering data to "determine the best path forward for bringing the computer back to operations."

"At this time, there is no definitive timeline for bringing the computer back online. However, the team has multiple options available to them and are working to find the best solution to return the telescope to science operations as soon as possible."


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