All’s well in the Hubble headquarters: Nasa goes through shake-up

Another step towards total mission failure, it looks more and more like there is no end in sight for the US space agency

Long gone is the clarity of that glorious sunset a few years ago. Hubble was displaying an extraordinary amount of apparent darkening, but the explanation was that the picture revealed a little more than what we were expecting.

This time the telescope has shown what many computer experts tell us to be something like a ‘dummy’ picture.

You have been warned: this video contains references to pretty bloody intense astrophysics.

In April 2013 the telescope had to be down-located and then experienced a protective safety safeguard failure, the first in nearly a decade. Since then things have been going wrong regularly.

More than a week ago Nasa announced that Hubble had experienced a “vital component failure” and had been forced into safe mode and would require nine days to troubleshoot.

The lab began the program with a new reactor guidance control unit (RGCU) which was mounted on an external service structure. The system was expected to operate at full power. It did not.

A report from Nasa Astronomy tweeted on 10 February said the station was “preparing to launch an Orbital Lescroft crew just two hours away from Hubble launch. They’re working to resume service to the mission.”

Astronomers are worried by the problems Hubble is suffering: it is one of the most complex telescopes in the world. It has always had a life-span of about 5-7 years, so part of the failure is simply a bug in the software; the other problem is the well being of the telescope itself.

Earlier in January the renowned astronomer Eileen Collins tried to fly herself by putting her retirement in place, but suffered a flat tire while preparing to do so. Now she has landed.

In late October, the instrument experienced another failure, and while still safely ensconced in space, suffered a second stop to power.

Preliminary estimates and the findings of the independent team are that it could take nine days for this to be resolved. A cursory scan on Thursday has revealed that NASA scientists are already getting worried: “A change in component status from good to bad on the Hubble Space Telescope brings about more than a dull headache for astronomers worldwide.”

Major concerns are focused on the shape of the new reactor guidance control unit. Hubble is notoriously hard on its electronics and today also seems to be suffering from more than one problem.

The renewed speculation means that the combined losses are now averaging four weeks a year.

As James Oberg puts it: “Hubble is getting to look to me like a house in a picturesque part of California that’s having a ‘flare-up’. It takes a while before the flames flare up into an inferno, but eventually the house does burn down.”

After being mistaken for UFO objects in 2009, this time around the confusion may be just as sinister.

Since the restart of the Hubble mission in 1990, the telescope has studied both ancient and modern galaxies, as well as exceptional deep-space galaxies that occupy an unknown territory, far beyond the Milky Way. As @AmSpecJ asks: “What on earth is going on with Hubble? This is far from being a piece of crap. If only they put it in a vault as a safe-deposit box.”

We, of course, find ourselves in a more familiar territory: disgraced Nasa administrator Charlie Bolden is currently serving out the last days of his term, a chapter that has featured numerous bombshells.

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