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Hubble Space Telescope Glitch: What Happened & How NASA Fixed It

On Friday- July 17th, 2021, NASA announced that the Hubble space telescope had successfully turned on backups to the defective hardware that shut down its operations more than a month ago. Currently, NASA engineers are gradually returning the telescope to full operations. The process is expected to take about a week.

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In 1990, the Hubble was launched by the discontinued Space Shuttle Discovery. It was positioned above Earth’s weather and its atmospheric distortion, where its crystal-clear vision provided countless breakthroughs in science observing distant stars, supernovas, galaxies, black holes, nebulas, and so much more.

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Over the years, the telescope has been upgraded several times enhancing its capabilities and extending its operative life. According to NASA, over 18,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published on its discoveries, which includes tracking interstellar objects as they soared through our solar system, watching a comet collide with Jupiter, and discovering the moons around Pluto.

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It took NASA experts weeks to identify which component of the system had a glitch. The reason why NASA’s testing took so long was because of the way the team conducted tests, practicing procedures the team would later conduct on the Telescope using a hardware-and-software replica on Earth to avoid damaging the Telescope while attempting to fix it. Tests included attempts to reconfigure the computer and re-jump backup systems. The tests were initially unsuccessful but the final test revealed that the problem was with the Power Control Unit (PCU) that supplies steady energy to the computer.

The PCU seems to either have been sending the wrong voltage of electricity to the computer, or the failsafe itself could have been malfunctioning. But NASA was prepared for issues like this. Each piece of Hubble’s hardware has a twin pre-installed on the telescope in case it fails. So, engineers just had to switch to that backup hardware.

“Hubble is an icon, giving us incredible insight into the cosmos over the past three decades,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “I’m proud of the Hubble team, from current members to Hubble alumni who stepped in to lend their support and expertise. Thanks to their dedication and thoughtful work, Hubble will continue to build on its 31-year legacy, broadening our horizons with its view of the universe.”

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