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.
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