Spaceflight Insider

NASA continues to troubleshoot Hubble payload computer issue

The Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credit: NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

On June 13, 2021, the Hubble Space Telescope’s payload computer stopped working. Its purpose is to maintain, control, monitor and track the science instruments and assist with safety purposes.

Since then, attempts to restart the computer failed three separate times as did an attempt to switch to backup memory modules. The memory modules store operation commands that can be executed when Hubble is not in contact with the ground. They can also be reprogrammed from the ground to handle future requests or for working around for failed equipment.

“After performing tests on several of the computer’s memory modules, the results indicate that a different piece of computer hardware may have caused the problem, with the memory errors being only a symptom,” a June 22, 2021, NASA press release reads. “The operations team is investigating whether the Standard Interface (STINT) hardware, which bridges communications between the computer’s Central Processing Module (CPM) and other components, or the CPM itself is responsible for the issue. The team is currently designing tests that will be run in the next few days to attempt to further isolate the problem and identify a potential solution.”

NASA said the telescope and the instruments themselves remain in good condition during this outage.

With technologies dating back to the 1980s, the payload computer and its backup were replaced during the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission in May 2009. According to NASA, the backup computer has not been powered on since its installation during that mission, but it was “thoroughly tested on the ground prior to installation on the spacecraft.”

NASA said it is working to determine what hardware is still working for “future reference,” and if the problem can’t be fixed, the operations team is prepared to switch to STINT and CPM hardware on the backup payload computer.

Hubble was launched in 1990 aboard space shuttle Discovery’s STS-31 mission. Over more than 31 years, the iconic observatory has captured images of objects in the solar system as well as the Milky Way and distant galaxies.

The Hubble Space Telescope as seen by the crew of Atlantis on STS-125 in May of 2009. Photo Credit: NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope as seen by the crew of Atlantis on STS-125 in May of 2009. Credit: NASA


Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.

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