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Hubble update: Engineers narrow possible failed hardware to one of two units

Engineers working to pinpoint the cause of the computer hardware issue that has placed the Hubble Space Telescope in safe mode since June 13th have now narrowed the possible failed hardware to one of two units.

The source of the computer problem lies in the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit, where the payload computer resides. A few hardware pieces on the SI C&DH could be the culprit(s).

The team is currently scrutinizing the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF), which sends and formats commands and data. They are also looking at a power regulator within the Power Control Unit, which is designed to ensure a steady voltage supply to the payload computer’s hardware. If one of these systems is determined to be the likely cause, the team must complete a more complicated operations procedure to switch to the backup units. This procedure would be more complex and riskier than those the team executed last week, which involved switching to the backup payload computer hardware and memory modules. To switch to the backup CU/SDF or power regulator, several other hardware boxes on the spacecraft must also be switched due to the way they are connected to the SI C&DH unit.

Over the next week or so, the team will review and update all of the operations procedures, commands and other related items necessary to perform the switch to backup hardware. They will then test their execution against a high-fidelity simulator.

The team performed a similar switch in 2008, which allowed Hubble to continue normal science operations after a CU/SDF module failed.

That such a switch was done successfully in the past is a very hopeful sign. However, it sounds as though they are not 100% sure they have pinpointed the actual issue, which means that this switch still might not fix the problem.

We can only wait and hope. And even if the fix works, Hubble will no longer have working backup units for these pieces of hardware. Should any of the backup that are now being activated fail, the telescope will fail, and this time it won’t be fixable with the equipment on board.


Conscious Choice cover

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


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  • “Mister Scott, there was no deity involved. It was my cross-circuiting to B that recovered them.”

    Spock ‘Obsession’ ST:TOG 15 December 1967

  • Alex Andrite

    I will not ask for a “pardon me”.

    I have always marveled at the Hubble site images, and other sites posting same and similar, which showed almost infinitesimal peeks into the infinite beauty of the outer heavens and its mysteries. I have also spent hours at high powered microscopes seeking to find and identify flaws in semiconductor circuitry.

    Now I will ask:
    “The team performed a similar switch in 2008, which allowed Hubble to continue normal science operations after a CU/SDF module failed.”

    What are the ‘normal science operations’ for Hubble, by whom, and why ?

    Thank you for your pardon.

  • John

    Good question Alex. I know normal science operations are divided up by observing time and research teams compete for time on scopes.

    What I wonder is, do the scientists pay for the observing time? Pay to whom? Who decides what projects are granted observing time? Since the taxpayers paid for the scope, is the data public? (Not just pretty pictures, raw scientific data).

    The answers to these questions will decide if I build a space telescope after winning the lottery. And they might indicate if private space telescopes will ever be a reality.

  • John: As I understand it, the scientists do not pay for time on Hubble. However, they compete for that time, submitting proposals that get reviewed by an independent panel of astronomers, chosen by the astronomers. The system is pretty well run, and mostly seems fairly run. The only part of it that is a little distorted is that the Europeans are guaranteed 15% of the time in exchange for building the telescope’s original solar panels (which were not well designed and quickly replaced) and one instrument (which was also quickly replaced).

    All data is public, though the scientists get a grace period of one year to publish their studies from the data they obtain before it is released publicly. At this moment, after almost thirty years of good data, most of that data is available and archived for anyone to use.

    Future telescopes can function any way their builders wish. For example, some of big ground-based telescopes of the late 1800s and first half of the 20th century were not general observatories, but reserved use of the telescope to the university that built it, or to the builders. They generally would let others obtain time, but only with the time that was left.

    If you or anyone privately pays for putting a telescope on the Moon or in orbit, you can use it as you wish. Of course, that assumes we still live in the free America I was born in. On that question there no longer are any guarantees.

  • Jeff Wright

    If Hubble is fixed-but there are indications that it is about to fail for good…then do something risky…and point it at the Sun to go out in a blaze.

  • wayne

    Excellent! That’s one of the best Spock Quotes going.

  • wayne

    The Amazing Hubble Image That Almost Wasn’t – Comet SL9

    “Just days before 21 fragments of periodic comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the atmosphere of Jupiter, the Hubble Space Telescope developed two sets of problems. This is the nail-biting story of the engineering team’s trouble-shooting and problem-solving leading up to the July 16th 1994 series of event-images.”

  • wayne

    here we go…

    Star Trek

    “do something!”
    “we are Doctor!”

  • John

    Thank you for the informative post, Mr. Zimmerman.

    If scientists can’t show me the money, I guess I won’t build them a new Hubble.

    It seems Uncle Sam purchases the hardware, and then funds a lot of the research that uses it. That might be a good model for pure research, a private entity needs a return on investment. Maybe with the lower launch costs, universities and others will find a way to put up small sats rather than solely relying on large billion dollar instruments. I mean, how hard could it be.

  • John: If you launched a high quality optical space telescope and required scientists to pay for its use, they would find the money and pay you. They get grants for their research, and in their proposals include the cost of research. Your fee would be part of that cost. And you would be offering something they need desperately. Remember, the demand for Hubble is five times the available time. 80% of scientists who apply to use it cannot.

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