Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=100687
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 10:00:09 AM CST
Image courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute
WASHINGTON –NASA engineers will begin Wednesday reconfiguring the Hubble telescope to correct a malfunction that halted almost all science operations on the orbiting observatory.
A team at Goddard Space Flight Center has been developing the procedure allowing a switch to a backup science system since the defect was detected on the telescope Sept. 27.
The failure caused NASA to delay the fifth and final space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble telescope.
“The Hubble team is a group of extraordinary men and women and they are at their best in a situation like this,” said Art Whipple, manager of the Hubble Space Telescope Systems Management Office.
Three weeks ago a piece of the telescope which collects science data from several instruments and prepares the data for transmission to Earth stopped working.
A team of about 50 scientists will start Wednesday morning on a complicated procedure that has never been fully carried out in the18-year history of the telescope.
Whipple compared the process facing the team with similar tasks that an Information Technology professional would do on an office network.
Working around clock, the team is expected to issue several dozen commands to the telescope from Goddard in Greenbelt, Md . The commands switch both the malfunctioning data formatter and six other systems to their backups, most of which have not been turned on since Hubble’s launch in 1990.
“We expect the full flow of science data to resume Friday morning,” Whipple said.
NASA reiterated its confidence that the backup systems will work as planned.
During the teleconference to announce the failure and delay two weeks ago, Preston Burch, a Hubble manager, said the components have been in the “best storehouse you can imagine.”
After repair, the first images returning from the telescope will not be of another galaxy, or some phenomena light years away. Instead, the camera will be focused on an internal lamp.
“Nothing could be aesthetically less pleasing, but it will be a great relief to everyone when we see that lamp,” Whipple said.
The team at NASA is still readying a replacement for the faulty equipment. Full testing on that unit should begin next week and is expected to take several months.
If all goes well, NASA estimates that the replacement will be ready to fly on a rescheduled service mission sometime in February.
Jon Morse, Astrophysics Division director in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said the anticipated delay of four months will likely cost NASA roughly $10 million per month.