After a month of enjoyment, NASA said Friday that the aging Hubble Space Telescope was in progress, recovering from a computer problem that has plagued what many astronomers call the most productive scientific instrument ever built.
As the bus-sized observatory orbits the Earth, space office engineers worked with a remote control to change the Hubble from vintage electronics to backup material. In the last step, they activated a payload computer that restored control of its six cameras and sensors, which pass through visible, infrared and ultraviolet light wavelengths at the edge of space and the dawn of time.
“We are delighted that the observatory is operational again,” said Kenneth Sembach, director of the Baltimore-based Space Telescope Science Institute, which handles Hubble Science. “All indications are that he is doing well and we will be back in science again this weekend.”
In more than a million expanding images of the universe taken over the past 31 years, the Solar Telescope has shown astronomers and amateurs a star as well as a psychedelic wallpaper of baby stars, dying supernovae, colliding galaxies and dark black holes with spiral nebulae.
Hubble data has been used in more than 18,000 scientific papers that have documented the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies and the study of planets beyond our solar system, NASA officials said.
“I think there is a very plausible hypothesis that the Hubble Space Telescope is the most scientifically productive instrument ever built,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division. “The result of the publications published by Hubble certainly surpasses any of its competitors in any scientific field.”
But on June 13, Hubble’s hobby – and not for the first time. Technical problems threatening to end the mission have infected the telescope since it reached its orbital perch about 340 miles above the surface of our planet on April 25, 1990.
Since its release – with faulty optics that make its photographs so blurry that the $ 4.7 billion observatory was initially considered an embarrassing failure – five space shuttle missions have been repaired, upgraded and replaced with telescope systems. All five of its key instruments were fixed and a $ 50 million set of corrective lenses was installed to address manufacturing defects.
Last repaired by space astronauts in 2009, Hubble lasted twice as long as originally expected, space agency officials said.
The latter problem began when a voltage overload on a built-in payload computer built in the 1980s broke a switch and shut down the telescope. It was the most serious technical failure faced by NASA engineers in the 11 years since the last transfer repair.
“We did a lot of debugging,” said James Jeletic, deputy project manager for the Hubble Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. After three weeks of painstaking analysis, they decided to change the telescope to the rest of the backup systems.
“Everything worked out as planned,” Jeletic said. “The computer is back. All backup material works well. I do not think we bite our nails anymore. “
Write to Robert Lee Hotz at [email protected]
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