NASA has delayed the planned servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope after engineers encountered a new problem with the spacecraft.
On Monday night, shortly after the spacecraft took off on its final flight, the “automatic shut down mechanism” that stops the telescope’s observations automatically switched off.
The engineers did a quick check of the Atlantis and Atlantis engineers here and determined that while Atlantis was away, it performed an onboard check of its orbit. The space shuttle did the checks because it is the sort of activity the astronauts do before launch and during the mission.
While Atlantis was doing this, the procedure was switched off. However, this was done in the wrong place, on the wrong day. And in turn, it turned off the power that the data system operated on to conduct the checks.
Since the Hubble only has a battery of computers that allows it to be commanded with the look and vibration of the shuttle at its touch, the shuttle is the shuttle to do these types of checks. So engineers have to step back and fix Atlantis.
But this one’s a doozy. The engineers say they have to first make sure there are no cracks or other potholes in the shuttle wing to stop it from having to step back and fix the malfunction. Then they have to shut down two computers that are used to operate the telescope and look at the universe. Since Hubble only has 10 independent processors of computing power to run the control system, it’s unlikely the problem can be corrected by any reboot. Only if the shuttle turns off the systems is it possible to turn back on the telescope.
The goal is to spend more than three days fixing this problem, and the Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to return to Earth tomorrow night at 9:50 p.m. EDT. During the three days while Atlantis is back at Cape Canaveral, some of its astronauts plan to help move the Atlantis around the Kennedy Space Center so that it will be closer to the main building to change off the antenna that it needs to get all its life support systems to start up. The astronauts also intend to disconnect the solar panels that provide the energy needed to power the spacecraft. NASA and the STS-125 crew will keep everyone posted on NASA’s blog as they learn more about the glitch.