Hubble Space Telescope crashes again, and fix may not come until February

The 18-year-old Hubble Space Telescope hasn't sent any pictures for the past three weeks, and fixing the system in outer space hasn't exactly gone as smoothly as NASA officials hoped. Restoration of the telescope's operations fot hampered by a couple of unexplained problems -- or "anomalies," in NASA-speak -- earlier this week.

On Wednesday, flight controllers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD started to reinstate data transmsission for the telescope. To work around an inital failure that happened on September 27, the engineers began reconfiguring "six components of the Hubble Data Management System and five components in the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SIC &DH) system to use their redundant (or B) sides," says a Hubble status report.

Progress seemed fine until Thursday afternoon, until the two "anomalies" -- maybe related, or maybe not -- struck, one right after the other. First, a low-voltage power supply problem stopped the engineers from rebooting the telescope. Then, less than four hours later, all operations ceased entirely.

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"At 1:40 pm, when the low voltage power supply to the ACS Solar Blind Channel was commanded on, software running in a microprocessor in ACS detected an incorrect voltage level in the Solar Blind Channel and suspended ACS," said the report.

"Then at 5:14 pm, the Hubble spacecraft computer sensed the loss of a 'keep alive' signal from the NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer in the SIC&DH and correctly responded by safing the NSSC-I and the science instruments."

At a news conference on Wednesday, officials told reporters that the engineers might be able to get to the bottom of the satellite's glitches as early as the end of next week. NASA has delayed a spaceflight to Hubble that would have involved installing two new instruments and repairing two inactive ones, along with replacement aging components.

That mission has now been delayed until at least February, and if NASA engineers can't get to the bottom of the software problems in the meantime, Hubble may not transmit any additional images until sometime next year.

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