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Hubble update: Engineers pinpoint issue, prepare to fix it

In an update today on the status for bringing the Hubble Space Telescope back into science operations, the engineers say they think they have pinpointed the failed unit, and are ready to do the switch to a backup.

A series of multi-day tests, which included attempts to restart and reconfigure the computer and the backup computer, were not successful, but the information gathered from those activities has led the Hubble team to determine that the possible cause of the problem is in the Power Control Unit (PCU).

The PCU also resides on the SI C&DH unit. It ensures a steady voltage supply to the payload computer’s hardware. The PCU contains a power regulator that provides a constant five volts of electricity to the payload computer and its memory. A secondary protection circuit senses the voltage levels leaving the power regulator. If the voltage falls below or exceeds allowable levels, this secondary circuit tells the payload computer that it should cease operations. The team’s analysis suggests that either the voltage level from the regulator is outside of acceptable levels (thereby tripping the secondary protection circuit), or the secondary protection circuit has degraded over time and is stuck in this inhibit state.

Because no ground commands were able to reset the PCU, the Hubble team will be switching over to the backup side of the SI C&DH unit that contains the backup PCU. All testing of procedures for the switch and associated reviews have been completed, and NASA management has given approval to proceed. The switch will begin Thursday, July 15, and, if successful, it will take several days to completely return the observatory to normal science operations.

Engineers did a similar switch in 2008, so they are very confident it will work this time also. However, once done, the telescope will no longer have backups for any of these computer modules. The next failure in any of them will shut the telescope down, for good.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


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.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can 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. Note that the price for the ebook, $3.99, goes up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Mark

    Are there any plans for a successor to Hubble for the visible and UV investigations currently run by Hubble. I think India’s Astrosat space telescope (with a much smaller aperture) has ended or soon will end its mission. Are we ceding visible and UV space based astronomy to the Chinese for the next two decades?

  • Mark: I’ve written this numerous times in the past. In a word, the U.S. has no plan in the works to replace Hubble. And yes, we are ceding visible space-based astronomy to China.

  • Mark

    I don’t have a political representative that has jurisdiction over national and civil space policy. But for issues like leadership in Space Astronomy, perhaps there are others in the BehindtheBlack audience who could contact their Senator on the matter of having some capability like Hubble (In addition to Webb)in the next decades.. Here are the states with Senators on the Senate Subcommittee on Space and Science – Colorado, Wyoming, Connecticut, Michigan, Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia, Massachusetts, Texas, Nebraska, Indiana, Utah, Florida, & Kansas.

  • Mark: Personally, I think asking the government for this is a big mistake. Better that private individuals or companies put the project together, taking advantage in the lower launch costs. Consider that both Subaru and the Discovery Channel paid for the building of ground-based big telescopes, for the publicity and good will. No reason this can’t be done in space.

    It will result in more telescopes far faster, and for a lot less money.

  • Mark

    I definitely support the philosophical commitment to private space, and for me it takes some effort to extend that thinking beyond private launch. I recall NASA in 2017 wanted a U.S. company to fund the operations of the Spitzer Space Telescope to the tune of 14 million a year for 2018 & 2019. I’m sure a private space telescope effort would cost less than that in annual operational costs – but even a figure of a few million a year seems steep. Perhaps the major universities which access that Astronomy data could help defray those costs. It definitely makes sense to think of projects which don’t require government funding.

  • Col Beausabre

    Until World War 2, when scientific research was nationalized, it was a private endeavor. The problem was the scientific and academic communities got used to sucking at the government teat. This got an immense shock when the Super Conducting Super Collider was cancelled. Huge majorities were in favor of it until a site was selected, because they thought it might go to their state, district, whatever. Once a site was selected, only the Texas delegation wanted it. I can remember talking with a woman who was distraught over the cancellation. “I’ve built my entire education and career about being able to work on the SCSC!”. I was not sympathetic. Why spend huge sums of taxpayer money so one or two people could win the Nobel Prize? Who cares if they are Americans or Europeans working at CERN (which has had American staff members)? Anyway, to bring this back to telescopes, consider this

    “The Mount Wilson Observatory with grants from the Carnegie Institution of Washington: the 60-inch (1.5 m) telescope in 1908 and the 100-inch (2.5 m) telescope in 1917. These telescopes were very successful, leading to the rapid advance in understanding of the scale of the Universe through the 1920s, and demonstrating to visionaries like Hale the need for even larger collectors.

    The chief optical designer for Hale’s previous 100-inch telescope was George Willis Ritchey, who intended the new telescope to be of Ritchey–Chrétien design. Compared to the usual parabolic primary, this design would have provided sharper images over a larger usable field of view. However, Ritchey and Hale had a falling-out. With the project already late and over budget, Hale refused to adopt the new design, with its complex curvatures, and Ritchey left the project. The Mount Palomar Hale Telescope turned out to be the last world-leading telescope to have a parabolic primary mirror.

    In 1928 Hale secured a grant of $6 million from the Rockefeller Foundation for “the construction of an observatory, including a 200-inch reflecting telescope” to be administered by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), of which Hale was a founding member. In the early 1930s, Hale selected a site at 1,700 m (5,600 ft) on Palomar Mountain in San Diego County, California, US, as the best site, and less likely to be affected by the growing light pollution problem in urban centers like Los Angeles. The Corning Glass Works was assigned the task of making a 200-inch (5.1 m) primary mirror. Construction of the observatory facilities and dome started in 1936, but because of interruptions caused by World War II, the telescope was not completed until 1948 when it was dedicated. Due to slight distortions of images, corrections were made to the telescope throughout 1949. It became available for research in 1950.”

    Private money built the largest telescope in the world. I also grew up a few miles from Bell Labs (the father of one of my classmates worked there)

    “Nine Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work completed at Bell Laboratories.[56]

    1937: Clinton J. Davisson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for demonstrating the wave nature of matter.
    1956: John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William Shockley received the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the first transistors.
    1977: Philip W. Anderson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for developing an improved understanding of the electronic structure of glass and magnetic materials.
    1978: Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Penzias and Wilson were cited for their discovering cosmic microwave background radiation, a nearly uniform glow that fills the Universe in the microwave band of the radio spectrum.
    1997: Steven Chu shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.
    1998: Horst Störmer, Robert Laughlin, and Daniel Tsui, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering and explaining the fractional quantum Hall effect.
    2009: Willard S. Boyle, George E. Smith shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Charles K. Kao. Boyle and Smith were cited for inventing charge-coupled device (CCD) semiconductor imaging sensors.
    2014: Eric Betzig shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in super-resolved fluorescence microscopy which he began pursuing while at Bell Labs.
    2018: Arthur Ashkin shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on “the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems”[40] which was developed at Bell Labs.

    The Turing Award has been won five times by Bell Labs researchers.

    1968: Richard Hamming for his work on numerical methods, automatic coding systems, and error-detecting and error-correcting codes.[57][58]
    1983: Ken Thompson[59] and Dennis Ritchie[60] for their work on operating system theory, and for developing Unix.[57]
    1986: Robert Tarjan[61] with John Hopcroft,[62] for fundamental achievements in the design and analysis of algorithms and data structures.
    2018: Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio shared the Turing Award with Geoffrey Hinton for their work in Deep Learning.
    2020: Alfred Aho and Jeffrey Ullman shared the Turing Award for their work on Compilers.”

    So I am fully in favor of private scientific research

    “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t have been research”

  • Edward_2

    Probably Bad Capacitors.

    Recap! :-)

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