NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is back online and functioning now that the final piece of the hardware puzzle, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC 3), has been successfully revived. After months of hardware glitching and a mysterious loss of crucial data synchronization messages, the Hubble is no longer orbiting in safe mode.
The world's most powerful space telescope had been placed into safe mode in October, with many operations suspended. The Wide Field Camera 3 is said to be the most heavily used instrument of the telescope, paired with its other Advanced Camera for Surveys, its function is crucial and used for observation.
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Fixing the now very old but still superior Hubble Space Telescope piece by piece has taken months of troubleshooting efforts. Engineers were struggling to determine the cause of the Hubble's malfunction, but eventually managed to rerout operations to a backup computer, correcting the faults. WFC 3 is one of only a few instruments to be lifted from safe mode, but NASA states that the spacecraft is operating as expected.
Working continuously without fault for 31 years, the device was brought offline for the first time in June 2021 due to a payload computer glitch. The Hubble suffered another downfall in October, after discovering a loss of data being provided to the circuitry of the Control Unit, which affected synchronization messages providing instructions to the instruments on the telescope spacecraft.
Unfortunately for the Hubble, in the event of this happening again, NASA’s only way to keep it alive is through remote software fixes as repair shuttles sent periodically to inspect the telescope were retired in 2011. Fortunately NASA is prepping a brand new Hubble successor – the James Webb Space Telescope – with an expected launch to take place no earlier than December 2022.
Scientists have used the Hubble over the years to observe the most distant stars and planets in our solar system. It was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains (only just) in operation of its mission to fundamentally change the ways in which we understand the universe.