On June 13, the Hubble Space Telescope took itself offline due to a fault in its payload computer, which manages the telescope’s scientific instruments. Since then, NASA has been doing the sort of troubleshooting that is familiar to many of us—with the added pressure that the hardware is irreplaceable, in space, and about the same vintage as a Commodore 64.
So far, controllers have managed to figure out several things that are not at fault, based on attempted fixes that haven’t worked. The workers narrowed the problem down, but they haven’t pinpointed it. And at this point, the next steps will depend on the precise nature of the problem, so getting a diagnosis is the top priority.
If at first you don’t succeed…
The hardware at issue is part of the payload computer system, which contains a control processor, a communications bus, a memory module, and a processor that formats data and commands so that the controller can “speak” to all the individual science instruments (the system also converts the data that the instruments produce into a standard format for transmission to Earth). There’s also a power supply that is supposed to keep everything operating at the proper voltage.