Hubble space 'scope brings its Cosmic Origins Spectrograph back online

Work continues on code to make the observatory operate happily when control unit message sync glitches out


NASA has successfully restored another instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope.

The space agency has revealed that on November 28, it was able to resume operations of the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph – an instrument installed in 2009 to give Hubble a better chance of gathering data that reveals the temperature, density, and chemical composition of light sources.

The Spectrograph and Hubble's other instruments have been in trouble for nearly a month, thanks to problems with the 'scope's Control Unit and the synchronization messages it generates to operate Hubble's instruments.

Those messaging issues were first detected on November 1 and led to a Hubble holiday, plus fears the venerable instrument might have reached unplanned end-of-life. As the 'scope has produced innumerable amazing discoveries, its potential demise generated much sadness.

Thankfully, NASA thinks it's on top of the problem.

The agency's Hubble update states that work has progressed on "developing and testing changes to instrument software that would allow … science operations even if they encounter several lost synchronization messages in the future".

That code's not ready for deployment, but dev and test chores are expected to be finished "within a few weeks". Once complete, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph will get the update and, if all is well, Hubble's other instruments will also receive an upgrade.

At the time of writing, three of Hubble's five main instruments are working: the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph; the Advanced Camera for Surveys; and the Wide Field Camera 3. The other two — the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph; and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer — are still on holidays until NASA can kick-start them.

If Hubble ever does become inoperable, its successor – the James Webb Telescope – will at least be able to take its place after overcoming yet another pre-launch glitch on Monday. ®


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