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Hubble: Servicing Mission 4 postponed September 30, 2008

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Astronaut Steve Smith works on Hubble during Servicing Mission 2 in 1997.

Astronaut Steve Smith works on Hubble during Servicing Mission 2 in 1997.

Astronomers around the world are quite concerned today following NASA’s announcement yesterday of a serious problem with the Hubble Space Telescope that has forced them to delay the all-important 4th servicing mission to next year. The fault, which occurred last weekend in the telescope’s command and data handling system, is preventing data from being sent down from the telescope. The telescope itself, they stressed, is absolutely fine – but this is a pretty serious fault nonetheless.

Luckily redundancy was built into the telescope, as is done as much as possible with space missions, and the operations team has begun preparing the transition to the redundant channel. This is a complex operation and the channel has not been used since ground testing before Hubble was launched – the switch should be a real test for the telescope engineering and I imagine  it’s a pretty stressful time over at NASA.

But it could all have been much much worse. A redundant channel is available, and the final servicing mission is yet to take place. NASA are looking into carrying out some additional hardware repairs during the upcoming servicing mission, which will now hopefully take place next January or February. The mission is crucial for continuing Hubble’s operations until the launch of its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, around 2013.

After the demise of space shuttle Columbia, astronomers had to fight hard to make SM4 happen – so get well soon Hubble!

The NASA press release is here.

A good new story from AP is here.

Various bloggers have also commented, look here, here and here.


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