The Hubble Telescope is back in operation one month after being idle in ‘safe mode’ following a serious hardware failure. A period of uncertainty about the future of the ingenuity that accumulates breakdowns typical of the age of its hardware, the passage of time and the exposure of its components to space radiation.
Launched in 1990, Hubble relies on an aging hardware platform. An 1980s computer first developed by NASA in the 1970s. Although archaic from today’s point of view for Earth systems, it has been enough to power the telescope for more than three decades of galactic observation. However, like all computer systems, there is the potential for components to wear out, break down, and completely fail.
It is not the first time that the Hubble needs repairs and these types of operations began as soon as they were launched, as a problem with the polishing of the main mirror almost turned it into a fiasco. Nor have there been a lack of major maintenance operations, the last general was carried out by the personnel of the shuttle Atlantis in 2009 when at 560 kilometers above the earth and at a speed of 25,000 kilometers per hour, they replaced the batteries, insulating covers, sensors of guidance and the gyroscopes in charge of its orientation.
A PCU put Hubble out of the game
Although at first it was thought that the problem arose from a degraded memory module that caused errors in one of its computers, after the pertinent tests it has been determined that the failure had been caused by a power control unit (PCU), responsible for ensuring a constant voltage supply to the faulty payload computer. Fortunately, the telescope has its own backup hardware.
“NASA has returned the scientific instruments of the Hubble Space Telescope to operational status, and now the collection of scientific data will resume,” they explain from the agency. “This will be the first scientific information collected since the payload computer experienced a problem on June 13, which placed the instruments in a safe configuration and suspended operations.”
Long live Hubble! A magnificent instrument that has revolutionized all areas of astronomical research after observing in detail tens of thousands of celestial bodies and giving us the most beautiful images of the deep Universe. The one you see below is the first image taken after the repair.
The truth is that it has been active for a long time … It is expected that its useful life will be extended until the 2030s if the breakdowns – which will continue to occur – can be repaired like the latter. Hubble will coexist in space with his successor, the James Webb, the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space with a 6.5-meter primary mirror (almost triple that of Hubble), giving it unprecedented resolution and sensitivity.