The Computers On-Board the Hubble Space Telescope are Dead! Is it the End for the 30-Year Old Telescope?

The Hubble Telescope, launched on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1990, has been one our greatest assets in forwarding our understanding of the universe. But, the ageing telescope has faced massive problems in the last few days.

The payload computer on-board the Hubble Space Telescope has been shut for two weeks and has stopped collecting any scientific data.

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The computer suffered a malfunction on June 13 and stopped receiving the “keep-alive” signal that is the “standard handshake between the payload and main spacecraft computers to indicate all is well” said NASA.

NASA said in a statement,”The telescope itself and its science instruments remain in good health and are in a safe configuration”. NASA conducted tests on the payload computer on June 23 and 24 and also switched on the backup computer for the first time in space.

How important is the payload computer on the Hubble?

The payload computer is a part of the Science Instrument Command and Data handling unit. This unit communicates data from and to the control-center on Earth and also controls the science instruments on the Hubble. But, there is a second computer on-board as a backup for the first one.

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What is the problem?

Nobody knows! NASA has stated that they have not been successful in reading the memory of the telescope to see the exact problem.

The payload computer has a Central Processing Module (CPM) which processes commands to control the instruments and a Standard Interface (STINT) which allows for communication between the CPM and other components. After careful investigation, NASA engineers think that either the CPM or STINT hardware may have some problem.

They will soon run more tests to pinpoint the exact problem and devise a solution.

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