Decrepit storage: Hubble space telescope still out of order


More than a week after the Hubble Space Telescope ceased its scientific work, the problem that caused it has still not been resolved. Attempts to restart the failed payload computer have so far been unsuccessful, said the US space agency NASA. Measures to collect more diagnostic information would not have delivered any results either. NASA did not explain what steps are planned next, but assured them that apart from the computer problem, the telescope and the scientific instruments were still in good condition.

The US space agency announced last week that the payload computer of the space telescope operated jointly by ESA and NASA had switched itself off on June 13th. The sub-computer is responsible for coordinating the scientific instruments. After the main computer no longer received any data from this sub-area, it in turn switched all instruments to safety mode. It is assumed that a decrepit memory module was responsible for the first failure. A total of four of them are available, three are kept as pure backups, explained NASA. It is assumed that the first module is decrepit. The change to another has not worked so far.

The affected payload computer is therefore a so-called NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 (NSSC-1), which dates from the 1980s. Its task is to control and coordinate the scientific instruments on board the space telescope, as well as to check their condition. There is a complete backup computer on board for him, which can take over the work if necessary. Both have access to four memory modules, three of which are also kept as a backup. So far, attempts have only been made to reactivate the first payload computer with a different memory module, but this was not successful. So there are still a number of possible measures left. An up-to-date schedule NASA did not name it.

The Monkey Head Nebula in Orion
(Image: ESA / Hubble)

Hubble has been in operation since 1990 and, after a difficult start, has fundamentally changed and shaped our image of the universe over the past three decades with countless images of stars, galaxies and a lot more. In the end, however, the old age of the instrument became evident, which since the end of the space shuttle can no longer be visited and maintained by humans. The module now affected was replaced during the last maintenance in 2009, but the computer was built in the 1980s and developed even earlier. With the James Webb Space Telescope, a successor to Hubble has been under construction for years, but its start has been delayed again and again. It should be so far this year.


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