After a Month, Hubble Is Clicking Away Again
But NASA Reports That Planned Repair Mission Is Being Delayed a Second Time
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008; A08
Space Telescope is working again and taking
spectacular pictures, officials said yesterday,
but a planned space shuttle mission to repair and
upgrade the orbiting observatory will be delayed
a second time and will not take place until May at the earliest.
The telescope had been shut down for a month
because after a key instrument failed, but
engineers succeeded this week in switching to a
backup and getting the main camera working again.
The failure of the "data formatter" delayed a
shuttle mission originally planned for October
while technicians prepared a third spare that has
been in storage at the
Space Flight Center. That process is taking
longer than anticipated, however, forcing
to delay the shuttle mission again from February well into 2009.
Hubble program manager Preston Burch said the
newly restored capabilities on the Hubble should
hold up until astronauts can reach the observatory next year.
The Space Telescope Science Institute in
Baltimore, which operates the Hubble for NASA,
said the new images captured by the Wide Field
Planetary Camera 2 were a "perfect 10," equal in
quality to what the telescope was delivering
before one of its two science data formatting instruments failed.
Several weeks of intense efforts to switch over
from the failed "data formatter" to an
18-year-old, on-board duplicate that had never
been used the process succeeded this week. The
first new images were taken on Oct. 27 and 28 and
show a pair of galaxies about 400 million
light-years from Earth in the constellation of
Cetus. The astronomers said one galaxy appears to
have passed through the other.
The Hubble, which is jointly operated by NASA and
Space Agency, has revolutionized astronomy since
it became fully operational in 1993. The planned
fifth repair mission, which NASA says will be the
last to reach Hubble, is expected to make the
observatory more powerful than ever and keep it running until 2013.
The Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys is also
working again but is able to pick up only
ultraviolet light, said Space Telescope Institute
spokesman Ray Villard. The visible light
capability went out a while ago and is scheduled
to be fixed during the repair mission.
"We're now back where we were before the
formatting instrument failed," Villard said.
Almost every major component of the Hubble has a
spare, and the second formatter is now doing all
the essential work related to translating data
collected by the telescope into a form that can
be transmitted to Earth. NASA officials think the
third formatter now being worked on at Goddard
must be installed to keep the Hubble working.
The issue is significant enough that NASA's
Astrophysics Division Director Jon Morse said it
is possible that the repair and upgrade mission
would be scrubbed if the third formatter cannot
be brought up to specifications. But he said he
remains confident that the instrument, which had
been partly disassembled during in a Goddard
clean room, will be fully restored.
The spare has to be repaired and put through
almost three months of assessments that include
electromagnetic interference checks, vibration
tests and extended time in a thermal vacuum
chamber. If all goes well, officials said, the
unit will be delivered to the
Space Center in early April for loading onto the space shuttle.
© 2008 The Washington Post Company
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