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NASA is working to return the Hubble Space Telescope to scientific operations after solving a problem with protective protection on board. Hubble entered safe mode on Sunday, March 7, shortly after 4 p.m. EST, after discovering a software bug in the spacecraft’s mainframe.
The spacecraft has been moved from safe mode to pre-science with a plan to return to normal operation by Thursday night.
Safe mode sets the telescope to a stable configuration until solutions can be applied from the ground to correct the problem and return the mission to normal operation. There are different versions of safe mode, depending on the problem encountered.
The mission’s operational team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center identified a software bug in the enhancement recently placed on the spacecraft to help compensate for fluctuations in one of its gyroscopes. These devices are used to help Hubble turn and lock new targets by measuring the speed at which the spacecraft is turning. They found that the enhancement did not have permission to write to a specific location in computer memory, which caused a problem with the main flight computer, after which the spacecraft entered safe mode.
The team will update the software enhancement so that the repair can be transferred to the spacecraft in the future. In the meantime, the use of extensions will be banned.
Entering safe mode on Sunday, the team found that the door opening at the top of the telescope failed to close automatically. These doors are protective devices designed to protect from sunlight harmful light and heat from inside the telescope, protecting its sensitive instruments and their surroundings. It serves as a safety net if Hubble accidentally points in the direction of the sun due to an error or hardware problem. In more than 30 years Hubble has been in orbit, the door openings have never closed due to the detection of such bright objects.
The team looked at the spacecraft engineering data, conducted various tests, and confirmed that the door had indeed remained open despite orders given and the strength to close. Additional attempts to move the door by sending commands from the ground to their primary motor also failed to force the door to move. However, the same commands sent from the ground to his spare engine indicate movement and that engine is now set as the primary engine. The team is considering options to further reduce any associated risk.
During the process of moving the spacecraft into a pre-scientific state, the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument experienced an unexpected error, suspending its return to operation. The team is currently reviewing the issue and possible solutions.
All other instruments recovered without any problems. Hubble will be returned to scientific operations Thursday night, without predicting a wide-field camera 3 until the team resolves the issue.
Hubble’s instruments are expected to create revolutionary science for years to come.