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Hubble Space Telescope restored to service: No repeat of those missing messages, but here's a software patch anyway

They went full science. Always go full science

The Hubble Space Telescope team has triumphed once again and returned the veteran observatory to service.

The Space Telescope Imaging Spectograph was recovered on Monday 6 December, meaning that "full science operations" are back up and all four active instruments are collecting data. Furthermore, there has been no repeat of the synchronisation issues that bedevilled the spacecraft in recent months.

Engineers are continuing with plans to update the instrument software with tweaks to permit them to keep working even if the synchronisation message issues occur in the future. The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which was restored to service as November drew to a close, will be the first to receive the update.

The Hubble has four active instruments: the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), a third generation imaging camera, the ultraviolet focussed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, the Wide Field Camera 3, the main imager, and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. It also has a Fine Guidance Sensor for locking onto stars, which can be pressed into service as a fifth scientific instrument to measure the position of stars as well as detecting changes in brightness.

The Hubble's instruments first went into safe mode at the end of October owing to error codes resulting from the loss of synchronisation messages. Engineers spent November carefully recovering the payload while also devising procedures to handle future missed messages.

The recovery has come at a crucial time for space-based astronomy, as the hugely over-budget and massively delayed James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is prepared for launch. Any jitters felt over the wobbles of the increasingly aged Hubble will be nothing compared to the nail-biting ride to space and subsequent deployment sequence of the $10bn JWST – hopefully starting with a launch on 22 December.

The resilience of the Hubble and the skill of the ground teams keeping the spacecraft running, even after the Space Shuttle servicing missions ended, bodes well for the future of the JWST. ®

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