Hubble's hardware issues and the painful era of aging spaceship

Hubble is not the only NASA mission that has seen better days. In fact, it is one of four of the agency's best-known programs that are currently in safe mode or that are not communicating with Earth. A NASA spokeswoman, Felicia Chou, said she can not say if these circumstances are unprecedented for the agency; When I reached her Friday afternoon, many people who could answer that question were not in the office. "While it seems we have aging spacecraft because of the safe modes and fuel shortages, we have a whole new generation of spacecraft and lander with the latest technology, which are already in space, recently launched or come on the market," Chou assured me.

But the number of abandoned mission seems at least unusual in the recent memory. Every announcement of a new problem has been accompanied by scientists, engineers, and space enthusiasts working to recover a mission.

The wave of missionary difficulties started in June with a huge storm on Mars. The thin atmosphere of the planet swelled and blocked the sunlight on the surface. In the dark, the solar-powered opportunity rover could no longer charge its batteries and went to sleep. The sky was cleared in September, and the engineers hoped that the return of the sunshine would give them the opportunity to wake up. But they still have not heard of the Rover, and NASA's leadership has already thought about when the team may have to give up.

The Kepler Space Telescope was the next. Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has discovered thousands of planets outside the Solar System, including 30 Earth-like planets that roam the habitable zones of their stars, where liquid water, a precursor to life, can exist. Kepler was expected to run out of fuel and the ability to get his bearings this year, but the engineers did not know exactly when. The design of the spacecraft did not require a gas gauge that some scientists would have said privately would have probably been a good idea in retrospect.

In July, Kepler showed signs of very low fuel consumption, and the observatory has since been in and out of safe mode. The telescope woke up in August, watched the sky for about a month and then went down in October. NASA announced on Friday that engineers had once again awakened Kepler. You will now download the latest data from the telescope while trying to consume as little fuel as possible.

In mid-September, another Mars rover went to sleep. Engineers discovered a technical problem on the main computer of Curiosity that prevented them from carrying home the scientific and technical data stored in their memory. They turned off the robot's scientific instruments just in case and switched to a replacement computer last week. Almost a month later they are still investigating the mistake.

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