Hubble Space Telescope encounters another camera problem
Just six weeks after recovering from an anomaly with one camera, an error was detected in another camera aboard NASA’s 29-year-old Hubble Space Telescope.
According to NASA, at 8:31 p.m. EST Feb. 28 (01:31 GMT March 1), 2019, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, or ACS, suspended its operations when an error was detected while the instrument was performing a routine boot procedure.
“The error indicated that software inside the camera had not loaded correctly,” a statement from NASA reads. “A team of instrument system engineers, flight software experts and flight operations personnel quickly organized to download and analyze instrument diagnostic information.”
ACS was installed on Hubble during the STS-109 Servicing Mission 3B in 2002. It started with three independent channels to image objects in the ultraviolet to near-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum: the Wide Field Channel, the High-Resolution Channel, and the Solar Blind Channel.
In the mid-to-late 2000s, the instrument had a number of electronics failures and was completely disabled by January 2007 due to a short circuit in its backup power supply, according to NASA. The Solar Blind Channel was recovered several weeks later, but it wouldn’t be until May 2009 during the final Hubble repair flight in May 2009 before the Wide Field Camera was brought back online, leaving only the High-Resolution Channel permanently disabled.
NASA said the telescope is continuing to operate normally, albeit without ACS for the time being. Hubble has three other instruments: Wide Field Camera 3, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.
Six weeks ago, it was the Wide Field Camera 3 that had an issue. In particular, the camera software detected an out of range voltage level on Jan. 8, 2019, before entering safe mode. NASA later said the voltage levels were normal and “the engineering data within the telemetry circuits for those voltage levels were not accurate.” The camera was brought back to normal operations by Jan. 17.
For the current ACS issue, however, NASA said it is working to find the root cause before developing a recovery plan. Meanwhile, the agency said there were no critical observations planned using the instrument for the rest of this week or next week and what observations were planned “can be easily rescheduled.”
Hubble was launched in 1990 by Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-31 mission. NASA said the telescope was designed for a 15-year life. However, its life was extended several times and upgraded with the help of five Space Shuttle servicing missions.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.
It’s not a matter of if but when HST suffers irretrievable failure. What I find surprising most is that NASA has no realistic plan to deorbit one of humanity’s most prized civilian space assets. Even at an altitude of over 350 miles, HST would pose a danger to other low earth orbiting satellites and those living beneath its equatorial groundtrack. Perhaps the new U.S. commercial crew ships – being trialed –
could be modified to safely lower HST towards a more controlled atmospheric entry as sad as it would be?