NASA fixes Hubble Space Telescope using backup power supply unit, payload computer

Hardware gremlins plagued orbiting observatory for over a month


NASA’s beloved Hubble Space Telescope is able to snap the heavens again after overcoming a hardware issue that had plagued it for more than a month.

Its onboard payload computer, which controls its instruments, mysteriously froze, forcing the main computer to put the orbiting observatory's sensors into an inactive safe mode. By utilizing redundant components, the US space agency was finally able to bring Hubble back online.

“NASA has successfully switched to backup hardware on the Hubble Space Telescope, including powering on the backup payload computer, on July 15,” it said in a statement today.

“The switch was performed to compensate for a problem with the original payload computer that occurred on June 13 when the computer halted, suspending science data collection.”

Engineers thought a memory module damaged from radiation had caused the computer to fail. Switching to backup memory modules, however, didn’t fix Hubble, leaving it useless.

Next, the team investigated other parts of the computer system, and tried using a backup payload computer. Unfortunately, Hubble was still unable to read and write from and to memory, preventing it from operating normally.

Some began to worry that the aging telescope might be beyond repair. Mission control carried out a formal review of all the processes affecting the switchover to the backup payload computer. NASA then figured a dodgy power control unit (PCU) may be to blame. This part is supposed to maintain the voltage supply to the payload computer, and if it doesn't do its job right, the computer won't work.

And so after switching to a backup PCU, the telescope's systems were able to fire up, allowing the telescope to continue its science work. “The switch included bringing online the backup Power Control Unit (PCU) and the backup Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) on the other side of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit,” NASA explained.

Software was also uploaded to the machine to return it to operation. The Register has asked the space agency for more details of the failure.

It’ll take a day or so for the ol’ scope to start taking data and capture images of beautiful cosmic objects again.

“The Hubble team is now monitoring the hardware to ensure that everything is working properly. The team has also started the process for recovering the science instruments out of their safe mode configuration," NASA concluded.

"This activity is expected to take more than a day as the team runs various procedures and ensures the instruments are at stable temperatures. The team will then conduct some initial calibration of the instruments before resuming normal science operations." ®


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