NASA blames recent Hubble woes on aging hardware – Spaceflight Now

The Hubble House Telescope, seen from the house shuttle Columbia on the finish of a 2002 servicing mission. The observatory’s door is open on this image. Credit score: NASA

{Hardware} issues that cropped up earlier this month on the Hubble House Telescope, now approaching the 31st anniversary of its launch, are the most recent indicators the observatory is displaying its age.

Hubble went right into a secure mode March 7 on account of a software program error, and floor groups restored the observatory to full operations six days later. However efforts to get better the telescope two different issues.

One glitch concerned the aperture door on the ahead finish of the telescope, which was supposed to shut when Hubble went into secure mode to make sure brilliant daylight didn’t injury delicate inner optics. Then engineers found a voltage alarm on Hubble’s most-used scientific instrument, named Vast Area Digicam 3.

Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s astrophysics division, mentioned March 15 that each points are probably associated to getting old {hardware} on Hubble.

“We had a software program error, after which we had two locations the place we discovered some getting old spacecraft points,” Hertz mentioned in a presentation to NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee.

The software program bug that triggered the secure mode March 7 got here from the spacecraft’s important pc. Floor groups uploaded new software program to the pc earlier this 12 months to assist compensate for fluctuations in considered one of Hubble’s gyroscopes, which measure the course and price of the spacecraft’s motion when it turns to level towards distant , stars, and planets to gather scientific information and imagery.

Hertz mentioned the brand new software program was designed to permit Hubble to extra effectively flip, or slew, from one scientific goal to a different because it orbits 340 miles (550 kilometers) above . The software program was additionally imagined to mitigate an with noise in one of many Hubble’s three functioning gyroscopes.

Hubble’s gyroscopes are degrading after astronauts on the house shuttle Atlantis changed all six gyros on the latest servicing mission to the observatory in 2009. Three of the gyros are nonetheless in use, and Hubble wants all three for normal operations.

Engineers have devised methods to proceed a few of the telescope’s observations with only one gyro, however that may include limitations in the place Hubble might level to make observations.

Floor groups restored Hubble to scientific operations March 11 after eradicating the suspect software program code from the pc. NASA mentioned engineers will replace the software program enhancement to add to the spacecraft once more sooner or later.

Whereas the gyros themselves are getting old, the secure mode occasion earlier this month additionally revealed different indicators that Hubble is within the twilight of its service life.

The aperture door on the high of the telescope didn’t mechanically shut when Hubble went into secure mode.

“It seems that the first facet door motor has failed — simply an age factor — since 2009,” Hertz mentioned. “So we’ve switched the door over to the redundant motor, which we’ve confirmed is totally functioning.”

Hertz mentioned the door motors are unique elements from Hubble’s building within the 1980s, and had been by no means serviced on the 5 house shuttle upkeep and improve missions NASA despatched to the observatory.

The one time floor groups would have found the door motor failure was when the aperture door was supposed to shut. The final time the door opened and shut was earlier than and after the ultimate shuttle servicing flight in 2009.

“The motor dying doesn’t interrupt operation, and if the redundant motor dies with the door open, we’re superb,” Hertz mentioned. “That’s the popular failure mode.”

An astronaut on the house shuttle Columbia took this image of the Hubble House Telescope in March 2002. Credit score: NASA

Throughout efforts to reactivate Hubble’s most-used science digicam, named Vast Area Digicam 3, engineers detected a low voltage studying contained in the instrument.

Hertz mentioned the studying was barely under a preset low voltage restrict, inflicting groups to briefly halt the reactivation of the digicam whereas urgent forward with the resumption of scientific observations utilizing Hubble’s different science devices.

Just like the gyros and door motor, Hertz mentioned NASA has decided the voltage subject inside Vast Area Digicam Three can be related to its age. Astronauts put in the digicam into Hubble on the 2009 shuttle servicing mission.

“One of many voltages has been creeping down slightly bit, so we’ve lowered that voltage restrict to accommodate the getting old instrument,” Hertz mentioned.

Engineers restored the digicam to service March 13, bringing Hubble again into full operations.

The famed Hubble House Telescope was developed by NASA with contributions from the European House Company. With the house shuttles retired, NASA is making ready for the top of Hubble operations within the coming years.

NASA’s subsequent superior space-based observatory — the James Webb House Telescope — is ready for launch in October to increase the imaginative and prescient of Hubble with a bigger mirror and a extra subtle suite of scientific devices.

Final 12 months, throughout digital celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of Hubble’s launch, mission managers mentioned they anticipated to get a minimum of 5 extra years of worthwhile astronomical observations with the long-lived observatory.

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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