Successful rescue: The Hubble Space Telescope sees again – on Saturday, July 17th, 2021, the famous telescope resumed its scientific work. This was made possible because NASA had succeeded in switching to backup modules two days earlier. This made it possible to bypass an error in the voltage control unit that had paralyzed the payload computer and thus the “brain” of the scientific instruments on June 13th.
There were anxious days for NASA – and for astronomers all over the world. Because even if the Hubble space telescope has been in operation for 31 years, it is still one of the most important and sharpest “eyes” astronomy has. But since the orbital observatory’s payload computer suddenly failed on June 13, 2021, the telescope has remained blind. It wasn’t until July 14, a good month later, that NASA managed to find the cause of the failure.
NASA identified a defect in the voltage control module, a device that keeps the voltage on the payload computer constant at five volts and switches it off if there are any deviations, as the cause. Fortunately, the space telescope has backups for most of the hardware components on board, so it was possible to switch to the replacement modules.
Switching to backup modules succeeded
This switchover to the backup modules took place successfully on July 15th: NASA activated and switched on the replacement voltage control unit and the associated second Command Unit / Science Data Formatter. In addition, some other hardware modules also had to be adapted so that they are now connected to the replacement devices. After this happened, NASA was able to activate the backup payload computer and put all systems back into operation.
After a short calibration phase, the space telescope resumed its scientific operation on Saturday – our “eye in space” looks far out into the cosmos again. The observations originally planned for the one month long downtime will be made up for in the near future, as NASA explains.
Hubble can keep working for years
“The Hubble Space Telescope is an icon and has given us incredible insights into the cosmos over the past three decades,” says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “I am proud of the Hubble team, thanks to their dedication and thoughtful work, Hubble will now continue to work to broaden our horizons with their unique view of the universe.”
According to estimates by NASA, the space telescope can remain operational for several years despite its stately age. Even when NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launches into space at the end of 2021, Hubble will continue to be needed and will remain an important addition. Because the JWST will map space in the infrared range, while Hubble works in the visible and UV range.
Since its inception in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has made more than 1.5 million astronomical recordings and more than 18,000 scientific publications have been published based on its data and observations. No other astronomical instrument has so shaped and changed our view of the cosmos as this space telescope.