One month after its in-extremis rescue, Hubble still worries NASA

One month after its in-extremis rescue, Hubble still worries NASA

This good old Hubble is still voluntary, but these recurring failures show that he is starting to reach the end of his capacities.

Poor Hubble definitely continues to have a series of health problems lately. After a high-voltage man-made coma that kept NASA and observers spellbound for a month this summer, the agency announced that the famous satellite’s instruments have still weakened recently.

On October 25, the machine issued several error codes; he had apparently lost track of the synchronization messages, essential to accurately respond to NASA commands. After these successive alerts, the instruments automatically switched to “safe mode”. It is a kind of artificial comal, who allows to preserve the system when it encounters a malfunction. This makes it possible to protect the whole of a possible defective component.

The origin of the failure still unknown

At first glance, this incident seems less serious than the blackout this summer, which left the satellite in poor condition. The operators had had to struggle for long weeks to transfer the load to its one and only backup computer. Hubble therefore used its last wildcard at that time; it goes without saying that the current failure must have made the engineers’ blood run cold. Fortunately, however, it apparently did not damage the instruments or the computer.

So it’s a big relief. But it remains to be seen why Hubble failed to transmit and receive these sync markers. Because if this were to happen regularly, it would greatly complicate the rest of the operations.

At the moment, NASA engineers are analyzing the vital constants of the craft with the few data they have. At the same time, they also searched the plans of the device and its technical documentation to find the source of this glitch. An eminently complicated task, when working with a technology designed in the 70s. And the more time passes, the more the technical problems repeatedly cast doubt on its longevity.

Pushing back the inevitable

In addition, the deployment of the future star of cosmology, the James Webb Telescope, is fast approaching. If it is not intended to replace Hubble strictly speaking, it will nevertheless be a true handover. Hubble is a bit like an old sportsman who has been raining and shining in his field for years. Today old and tired, he keeps the same passion, but the body no longer follows; he will continue to work until his last breath, but now is the time for the illustrious mentor to hand over to a promising young champion.

Until then, this metal colossus slumbers and wisely awaits the end of his convalescence. Hopefully his keepers will get him back on his feet as soon as possible. Because good old Hubble will not be forever. After all, he has already blessed us with three decades of loyal service; and at this canonical age, the slightest jolt now suggests the worst. It will therefore be necessary to take advantage of its enlightenment as much as possible, before this illustrious machine takes its bow once and for all.

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