NASA’s space telescope, Hubble, has become the subject of chatter once again.
There was a lot of hype late last year when a change in controls for the flagship space observatory prompted the telescope to reboot — NASA had made the change to facilitate its robot, NASA’s Robonaut, from operating outside of the Johnson Space Center on Earth to operating aboard the International Space Station.
But Hubble went back to rebooting and since then the telescope has been experiencing some serious problems: malfunctions involving mirrors or sensors inside the telescope’s mirrors, according to NASA.
“On Aug. 18, Hubble experienced a calibration problem with a primary mirror mirror after a few weeks of operations. The telescope restarted itself while in the safe mode and [at] higher than usual rates. During these operations, Hubble detected small insets in the telescope mirror that had the appearance of a crater on a star. The anomalies on the mirror mirror are being evaluated and will not affect science during Hubble’s upcoming visit to the observatory,” NASA said in a statement.
The earliest Hubble is expected to turn on is Oct. 15 and shortly thereafter, NASA said, the telescope will have to undergo inspections of both its main mirror mirror as well as some of its more-complicated gyroscopes.
“You can only spend so much time working on a telescope before something goes wrong and if Hubble gets hit with bad weather it may only work for a limited time, since its science lifetime is only expected to be about 20 years,” astronaut Donald Pettit said during a televised briefing in March.
And, while Pettit and other ISS astronauts have worked for months on end to fix the Hubble problems, Hubble’s previous orbital quirks have already complicated the nature of the missions:
“The problem has been an ongoing issue for Hubble — a sometimes mirror-weakening Earth gyro might get reset and become unusable, then some controllers would attempt to replace the gyro’s parts, but the mirror and gyro was reset again,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters on April 2.
Over the next several months, during a Hubble servicing mission, astronauts are expected to do some big things: they’ll be installing new science gear on the telescope, including a new wide-field camera, a new infrared imager and more. During that mission, the astronauts are also expected to do a major overhaul on Hubble’s batteries and gyroscopes, which have already been on the shelf for several years.
“So rather than dispatch one gyro as was planned several years ago, we are now going to dispatch multiple gyros on the Hubble mission,” Bridenstine said, according to NationalGeographic.com.