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NASA is still investigating what caused Hubble to go dark.

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  • Tip Bones

In order to move to backup gear, the space agency must first determine what is wrong.



The Hubble Space Telescope went down on June 13 due to a problem with its payload computer, which controls the telescope's scientific instruments. Since then, NASA has been conducting the kind of troubleshooting that many of us are used to, but with the extra strain that the hardware is irreplaceable, in space, and roughly the same age as a Commodore 64.


So far, controllers have figured out various items that aren't at fault based on failed patches. The workers have narrowed the problem down, but it has not been pinpointed. And, at this point, the next measures will be determined by the specific nature of the disease, therefore obtaining a diagnosis is the top priority.


The problematic hardware is a component of the payload computer system, which includes a control processor, a communications bus, a memory module, and a processor that forms data and commands so that the controller can "talk" to all of the different research equipment (the system also converts the data that the instruments produce into a standard format for transmission to Earth).



There's also a power supply to keep everything running at the right voltage. Hubble's designers were cautious, so they included a backup controller and three backup memory modules.


Because the initial indicators pointed to a possible problem with the memory module, the first attempt to restore the Hubble required switching to one of the backups. That patch failed, implying that the strange memory behavior was only a symptom of a larger problem.


 Switching to the backup controller also did not solve the problem; no matter which controller and memory module combination was utilized, Hubble could not read or write to the memory. Given this information, the controllers have shifted their focus elsewhere.



The power supply, data bus, and data formatting processor are now prime candidates.It is still feasible to switch to the backup controller and memory, but the approach will differ depending on what is wrong.NASA described this method as "more difficult and hazardous" in a press statement.


But there is cause to be optimistic: when a data formatter failed in 2008, NASA successfully moved to backups, which continued to function until a service mission replaced the faulty gear.


Given that NASA no longer has access to a vehicle built for such servicing trips, putting in place a working backup will be critical if we want to get further years out of this one-of-a-kind observatory.


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