The famous Hubble Space Telescope is back in business and market contention and its with a bang!
The NASA machine is set to explore the universe near and far, with the science instruments returning into full action in the aftermath of a computer anomaly that had temporarily halted the telescope’s observations for more than a month.
With Science observations restarting in the afternoon of July 17, elated NASA administrator, Bill Nelson had this to say:
“I’m thrilled to see that Hubble has its eye back on the universe, once again capturing the kind of images that have intrigued and inspired us for decades. This is a moment to celebrate the success of a team truly dedicated to the mission. Through their efforts, Hubble will continue its 32nd year of discovery, and we will continue to learn from the observatory’s transformational vision.”
Here is a look at the unusual galaxies shown in the snapshots taken from a program that was headed by Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington in Seattle, featuring a galaxy with one of a kind extended spiral arms, with a high-resolution glimpse at a pair of colliding galaxies.
It should be noted that lobular star clusters and aurorae on the Jupiter planet were other initial targets for Hubble.
It would be recalled that on June 13, the payload computer from Hubble that controls and manages the onboard science instruments suddenly stopped working but with the main computer failing to take cognizance of a signal form the payload computer, the science instruments automatically entered the safe mode. The implication of this is that the telescope will be unable to perform its primary science function pending the time specialist analysed the situation and come up with a solution.
The Hubble team not to be caught off-guard, moved to swiftly investigate what caused the observatory orbits of about 340 miles (547 kilometres) above Earth.
Due to COVI-19 restrictions, the team engineers had to align together to find the cause of the problem from their NASA mission control house in Goddard Space Flight Centre, Greenbelt, Maryland with Hubble alumni’s returning to support the team in the recovery effort, adding their decades of mission expertise to the project.
Hubble retired staffs for example have been accustomed with the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling unit, where the payload computer resides – critical expertise for determining next steps for recovery and would thus help to assuage the situation.
Nzinga Tull, Hubble systems anomaly response manager at Goddard had this to say on the collaboration:
“That’s one of the benefits of a program that’s been running for over 30 years: the incredible amount of experience and expertise. It’s been humbling and inspiring to engage with both the current team and those who have moved on to other projects. There’s so much dedication to their fellow Hubble teammates, the observatory, and the science Hubble is famous for.”
The collaboration between new and old Hubble veterans yielded positive results as they looked through likely culprits, in a bid to isolate the issue to make sure they have full knowledge of the hardware that is still working for future purposes.
The team at first thought the most likely issue would be a degrading memory module but discovered that it wasn’t the case as a switch to backup modules did not solve the problem. To know whether two other components could be responsible, tests were conducted, which included turning on Hubble’s backup payload computer for the first time in space. The Standard Interface hardware, which bridges communications between the computer’s Central Processing Module and other components, or the Central Processing Module itself. This wasn’t the case as turning on the backup computer did not work.
The Command Unit/Science Data Formatter and the Power Control Unit, designed to ensure a steady voltage supply to the payload computer’s hardware and other hardware’s were explored to ascertain if they were faulty, but it would be more complicated to address either of these issues, and riskier for the telescope in general. Switching to these components’ backup units would require switching several other hardware boxes as well.
Jim Jeletic, Hubble deputy project manager at Goddard, analyzing the processed said:
“The switch required 15 hours of spacecraft commanding from the ground. The main computer had to be turned off, and a backup safe mode computer temporarily took over the spacecraft. Several boxes also had to be powered on that were never turned on before in space, and other hardware needed their interfaces switched. There was no reason to believe that all of this wouldn’t work, but it’s the team’s job to be nervous and think of everything that could go wrong and how we might compensate for it. The team meticulously planned and tested every small step on the ground to make sure they got it right.”
The next two weeks had more than 50 people working to reviewing, updating and vetting the processes of switching to the backup hardware, while testing them on a simulator of high fidelity.
Holding a formal review of the intended plan, the team studied the data from earlier tears and from their findings discovered that the Power control Unit is a most probable cause of the issue.
By July 15, a planned switch to the backup side of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling unit, which contains the backup Power Control Unit was made and voila! At around 11:30pm EDT, the team saw that the switch worked!
Victory you say!
The science instruments reverted to operational status and Hubby started taking scientific data two days later, with observations missed while science operations got suspended having to be rescheduled.
Since the success of the project, Hubble has taken more than 600,000 observations, bringing its lifetime total to more than 1.5 million, with the belief that these observations continue to change our understanding of the universe.
“Hubble is in good hands. The Hubble team has once again shown its resiliency and prowess in addressing the inevitable anomalies that arise from operating the world’s most famous telescope in the harshness of space. I am impressed by the team’s dedication and common purpose over the past month to return Hubble to service. Now that Hubble is once again providing unprecedented views of the universe, I fully expect it will continue to astound us with many more scientific discoveries ahead.” ,” said Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, which conducts Hubble science operations.
It is not a doubt that Hubble has in many ways contributed to some of the most significant cosmos discoveries, that included the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, and the first atmospheric studies of planets beyond our solar system.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate had this to say:
“The sheer volume of record-breaking science Hubble has delivered is staggering. We have so much to learn from this next chapter of Hubble’s life – on its own, and together with the capabilities of other NASA observatories. I couldn’t be more excited about what the Hubble team has achieved over the past few weeks. They’ve met the challenges of this process head on, ensuring that Hubble’s days of exploration are far from over.”