NASA readies commands to switch on Hubble's back-up hardware

Observatory might be able to spot distant stars, but it can't hear a bunch of engineers holding their breath


NASA is preparing to have another crack at restoring the veteran Hubble telescope to service with a multi-day test of procedures to fire up back-up hardware aboard the spacecraft.

After US Independence Day celebrations drew to a close, engineers kicked off procedures to switch more of the Hubble's internals to back-up units, in the hope of dealing with whatever upset the payload computer and sent the telescope into safe mode nearly a month ago.

The problem has proven to be a tricky one for engineers to fix and, since there is no chance of a servicing mission (thanks to the retirement of the Space Shuttles), any resolution must be accomplished from the ground.

Former astronauts and managers alike have weighed in on the fate of the telescope, with some fearing the writing might be on the wall for the over-three-decades-old observatory.

The issue, which has resulted in the failure to read and write from memory modules by both the primary and backup payload computers, sounds like a low-level one to us.

An engineer with experience in managing spacecraft told The Reg that an inability to reliably load and execute programs on the Hubble's systems due to the failures would likely dash any hopes that the payload could perhaps be run directly from the ground, bypassing the onboard borkage.

The Hubble (up until the current issue, that is) makes use of the geosynchronous Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) to downlink science data stored in its solid state memory modules to Earth. One option could be to route that data directly to the ground, although we imagine there are substantial barriers to doing so from both a software and operational standpoint.

A glance at our Space Extenders series shows how creative engineers can keep spacecraft going, even when all is thought lost.

However, with budgets strained, some within NASA may wish to cut their losses and focus on the impending launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, currently set for later this year.

Ultimately, our source told us, the best bet for Hubble would be to identify the failed bit of hardware and find a configuration that bypasses the faulty component. Doing so, however, will require a complicated sequence of commands. A borked step could easily make the current safe mode state more permanent than scientists would prefer.

NASA reckons it has worked out the procedures to turn on the back-up hardware and has kicked off a test before uploading the commands to the stricken 'scope.

Should the test go well, then the sequence can be sent to Hubble and its long hiatus from observations might at last be brought to an end. ®


Other stories you might like

  • DigitalOcean tries to take sting out of price hike with $4 VM
    Cloud biz says it is reacting to customer mix largely shifting from lone devs to SMEs

    DigitalOcean attempted to lessen the sting of higher prices this week by announcing a cut-rate instance aimed at developers and hobbyists.

    The $4-a-month droplet — what the infrastructure-as-a-service outfit calls its virtual machines — pairs a single virtual CPU with 512 MB of memory, 10 GB of SSD storage, and 500 GB a month in network bandwidth.

    The launch comes as DigitalOcean plans a sweeping price hike across much of its product portfolio, effective July 1. On the low-end, most instances will see pricing increase between $1 and $16 a month, but on the high-end, some products will see increases of as much as $120 in the case of DigitalOceans’ top-tier storage-optimized virtual machines.

    Continue reading
  • GPL legal battle: Vizio told by judge it will have to answer breach-of-contract claims
    Fine-print crucially deemed contractual agreement as well as copyright license in smartTV source-code case

    The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has won a significant legal victory in its ongoing effort to force Vizio to publish the source code of its SmartCast TV software, which is said to contain GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 copyleft-licensed components.

    SFC sued Vizio, claiming it was in breach of contract by failing to obey the terms of the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 licenses that require source code to be made public when certain conditions are met, and sought declaratory relief on behalf of Vizio TV owners. SFC wanted its breach-of-contract arguments to be heard by the Orange County Superior Court in California, though Vizio kicked the matter up to the district court level in central California where it hoped to avoid the contract issue and defend its corner using just federal copyright law.

    On Friday, Federal District Judge Josephine Staton sided with SFC and granted its motion to send its lawsuit back to superior court. To do so, Judge Staton had to decide whether or not the federal Copyright Act preempted the SFC's breach-of-contract allegations; in the end, she decided it didn't.

    Continue reading
  • US brings first-of-its-kind criminal charges of Bitcoin-based sanctions-busting
    Citizen allegedly moved $10m-plus in BTC into banned nation

    US prosecutors have accused an American citizen of illegally funneling more than $10 million in Bitcoin into an economically sanctioned country.

    It's said the resulting criminal charges of sanctions busting through the use of cryptocurrency are the first of their kind to be brought in the US.

    Under the United States' International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEA), it is illegal for a citizen or institution within the US to transfer funds, directly or indirectly, to a sanctioned country, such as Iran, Cuba, North Korea, or Russia. If there is evidence the IEEA was willfully violated, a criminal case should follow. If an individual or financial exchange was unwittingly involved in evading sanctions, they may be subject to civil action. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022