NASA fixes Hubble's faulty camera
Hubble appears to be back in working order, with full science operations scheduled to resume by the end of this week. The Wide Field Camera 3 on the aging space telescope was struck by a technical fault on January 8, and NASA engineers now believe they've fixed the problem.
Like many spacecraft, when Hubble instruments detect a mechanical fault it automatically suspends science operations and goes into a safe mode until a ground team can determine the problem and find a fix.
In this case, on January 8 software running Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 detected higher than usual voltage levels in the instrument, and the camera was shut down to prevent any potential damage.
On closer inspection, the NASA team found that the voltage levels were normal. Instead, the problem seemed to lie in the telemetry circuits that read and report the values – there were errors in the engineering data. The team reset the telemetry circuits and related boards, and found that the values returned to normal.
While things seem to be running smoothly again, calibrations and tests are still ongoing to make sure. If all goes to plan, Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 should be snapping the stars again by the end of the week, NASA says.
This kind of fault isn't entirely unexpected given Hubble's age. Launched in 1990, the space telescope was originally given a 15-year lifetime, but that's been extended several times since. An upgrade in 2009 marked the last time the spacecraft would be serviced by visiting astronauts, but some issues can be fixed from the ground, like this camera problem and a gyroscope fault that struck back in October.
NASA says that Hubble operations will continue until at least 2021.