Procedure to Repair Hubble Begins Wednesday

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The procedure to begin “brain surgery” on the Hubble Space Telescope will begin at 6:00 am EDT (10:00 GMT) on October 15. The venerable space telescope will be put into electronic hibernation; then engineering teams will work from the ground around the clock for two days to reconfigure a data handler system which failed two weeks ago. If the procedure is successful, science operations could resume as early as Friday, October 17. The Control Unit/Science Data Formatter, which relays science data to Earth, is a redundant system, with two sides. Side A has been used exclusively since the telescope’s launch over 18 years ago in 1990. Side B hasn’t been powered on since well before launch. “It is obviously a possibility that things will not come up,” said Art Whipple, manager of the Hubble Space Telescope Systems Management office at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We have very good confidence this will work. In addition, we have contingency plans built in at each step of the transition where if something does not go the way we expect it to, we’ll be able to back out and go down an alternate path.”

Whipple said there is very little aging that goes on with an unpowered component in space. “It’s actually a very benign storage environment,” he said.

In addition six associated components have to be switched over to a redundant side as well. “Five of the six redundant components in this data management system that will be brought on line have also not been powered since 1990,” said Whipple. “The command procedures to accomplish this transition have been thoroughly tested.”

Engineers and mission managers have been working the past two weeks, devising a plan and testing procedures. NASA headquarters gave approval for the activation on Tuesday.

The planned Hubble Servicing Mission 4, shuttle mission STS-125, would have launched today (Oct. 14) if the data handler had not gone off line. NASA has re-set a tentative launch date for mid-February. The seven member crew, commanded by veteran Scott Altman, will perform five back-to-back spacewalks to add new cameras, (the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph), replace old batteries and gyroscopes, add docking equipment and upgrade the telescope’s guidance system. The astronauts will also attempt to fix the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). Those two were never designed to be repaired in orbit. In addition, a spare data handler system will brought up, after engineers test and certify the unit. That unit has not been turned on since 1992.

It has yet to be determined if the spare data handler will be ready by mid-February, and if the astronauts can be trained ready for the additional work required for the unit switch-out.

“We think in the first week or two in November we will have a much better handle on the actual state of the hardware,” Whipple said. “The paperwork says February should be supportable, but we should have much higher confidence (in November).”

Sources: NASA press release, NASA news conference

12 Replies to “Procedure to Repair Hubble Begins Wednesday”

  1. Go, go Gadget! Fingers crossed that this fix takes so the already tight observation schedule can resume. I’m with Astrofiend….. You can do it!

  2. Here’s some new words NASA:
    Preventive maintenance & procedure verification.

    Let’s look at the practicality of this backup system on the Hubble. (I’ll bet they have many backup systems they never test .) First, we test it all to hell on the ground, then we launch, wait 18 or so years until the Hubble quits, then we fire up the backup. Oh yeah….

    My IT department has done that to me many times.
    They “say” they make a backup everynight.
    They say “don’t worry, be happy”.
    Three times we asked for a system restore and 3 times IT failed. Oh yeah, one time they restored my system to a state 3 months old. Good Job. Some of my people must have done Hubble.

    What is needed is periodic testing of all systems BEFORE they crap out. That will not catch 100% of startup glitches but it will catch some.
    That will not negate the need for backups or restoration but it will keep the ground crews fresh on what they have to do.

    It looks like now, one of them reads the book written 20 or so years ago and another presses the keys.

    “Let’s see, Orville. Says here in the book on page 33 in, uh, step 42 to ‘modulate the quimquate by fibrolating the haversovers.’ That don’t sound so good.”

  3. Can’t they put the Hubble up on the Smithsonian museum when it retires, rather than letting it burn-up in the atmosphere?

  4. Hey Rey, great suggestion, but what’s going to go up to get it? Shuttle fleet is being retired in 2010 (along with several major problems with bringing it back with the shuttle).

  5. I really hope Hubble doesn’t blow up, then there’d be no servicing mission! Is it weird I’m more excited about the actual servicing mission rather than the badass images and science that’ll be done?

  6. I was supposed to say “Bring back Hubble on Earth and sell it on Ebay 😀 ” …and generate some publicity over it to increase the bid to millions (or billions) from private collectors ~ at least, Hubble is still earning some revenue.

  7. Whatever success or failure follow the activities on the ground, I think the construction of a Hubble II would provide the most value. It would last longer and likely have capabilities the first Hubble will never have.

  8. I have to say, that I could not agree with you in 100%, but that’s just my opinion, which could be wrong.
    p.s. You have an awesome template . Where did you find it?

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