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Hubble turns on one instrument, others remain in safe mode

Engineers at NASA are continuing work to fix the troubled Hubble Space Telescope, which is experiencing problems for the second time this year.

The problem began on October 25, when the science instruments automatically switched to safe mode as they are programmed to do when an issue occurs. This puts the instruments into a basic operating mode in which they don’t collect any science data and ensures that the instruments aren’t damaged by any faulty commands. The issue seems to be a problem with data synchronization.

Hubble Space Telescope in orbit.
Most of the instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope remain in safe mode following a synchronization issue. NASA

The first step to gathering more data about the problem was for the team to turn on an old and unused instrument, Near Infrared Camera and Multi Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) instrument. This instrument hasn’t been used in 11 years as it has been superseded by the Wide Field Camera 3, so the team could use NICMOS to collect information on the problem without risking the active instruments.

Next, the engineers moved on to turning back on a key Hubble instrument called the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which was recovered on November 7. This step was successful, allowing the engineers to learn more about what the problem is with the synchronization issue.

“The Hubble team successfully recovered the Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument Nov. 7,” NASA wrote in an update. “The instrument has started taking science observations once again. Hubble’s other instruments remain in safe mode while NASA continues investigating the lost synchronization messages first detected October 23. The camera was selected as the first instrument to recover as it faces the fewest complications should a lost message occur. ”

The good news is that this part of the recovery process seems to have gone well, though engineers are very careful when turning on and testing systems as it would be extremely difficult to get an in-person mission to fix Hubble if anything went seriously wrong with the telescope. The engineers thus work remotely and very carefully to try to anticipate any potential issues.

“Over the past week, the mission team has continued investigating the root cause of the synchronization issues and has seen no additional problems,” NASA wrote. “The team will continue looking into possible short-term solutions this week and develop estimates for implementation. Once this occurs, the team will discuss returning the other instruments to operational status and resuming their science observations.”

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