Science

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The Hubble Space Telescope

NASA to Go Ahead With Hubble Repair

October 15, 2008 03:30 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Hubble Space Telescope, which suffered a circuit failure more than two weeks ago, should be back in operation by Friday.

Scientists to Fix Telescope by Remote Control

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NASA scientists say that they plan to go ahead with a circuit switchover that could, if all goes well, resume the transmission of scientific data from the telescope to Earth.

MSNBC reported that the "unprecedented" changeover will begin early Wednesday, and the telescope could start beaming images down to Earth again by Friday, according to Art Whipple, manager of the Hubble Space Telescope Systems Management office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The repair will be done entirely by remote control, from an operations center in Maryland. The cause of the defect is believed to be in Hubble's command and data-handling system, which has been using a channel called Side A. The repair will switch the telescope over to the backup channel called Side B.

"This process is tricky, as it involves basically shutting everything down, then restarting it again. It means powering up a piece of hardware that's had 18 years of napping. And it means several days of painstaking engineering and control, and making sure everything goes according to plan," commented Discover Magazine's blog.

Whipple said to MSNBC that although scientists are not sure that Side B will work, "even under the worst-case scenario—for example, if there were a hidden flaw in the Side B electronics—the telescope would not be left in worse shape than it is now."

Background: Hubble Shut Down

The Hubble Space Telescope went out of commission just a few weeks before a final service mission was supposed to visit the instrument on Oct. 14.

A “significant malfunction” interrupted the storage and transmission of scientific data from the telescope to the Earth, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

NASA conducted an investigation into the impact of the the malfunction, which involved a part called Control Unit/Science Data Formatter—Side A.

While the breakdown was unfortunate, the telescope's operators said it was a relief that the breakdown occured when it did, instead of after the scheduled service mission had taken place.

“Think if it had happened two weeks after the service mission ... We could have lost the mission in six, twelve, eighteen months,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, to reporters Monday. “If this had to happen, it couldn't have happened at a better time. We're very lucky.”

The service mission is now to take place in February, and will include a replacement system for Hubble. In the meantime, the instrument will be reconfigured to work using Side B.
The space shuttle Endeavor was moved earlier this month to a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, where it sat next to the shuttle Atlantis. It was the first time in seven years that two space shuttles were at their launch pads simultaneously, according to Discover Magazine.

Atlantis was slated to liftoff in October, when seven astronauts were supposed to begin a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Although the mission has now been delayed, the 18-year-old telescope is still in need of its final upgrade: new batteries, gyroscopes and repair kits, according to Reuters.

Endeavor will be on stand-by in the event that something goes wrong in the Atlantis’s precarious mission. During the Atlantis mission, the astronauts will be close enough to the International Space Station to seek safety if anything goes wrong with the ship, according to the Associated Press. In such a case, four astronauts on Endeavor could come to the rescue.

Reference: Astronomy

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