NASA has good news for fans of the spectacular stellar images produced by the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been unable to send data back to earth since a computer malfunctioned several weeks ago: Engineers have successfully powered up the Hubble's backup data handling computer, which has slumbered in a dormant deep-freeze for the Hubble's 18 years of operation, and NASA officials say the telescope should be sending scientific data again by tomorrow. Engineers switched on the "Side B" backup system late Wednesday night.
The engineers then briefly switched back on several of Hubble’s instruments — the Advanced Camera for Surveys, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer — to ensure that each had a working interface with the duplicate unit. The instruments were then commanded back into a dormant “safe mode," in which they were hibernating since the observatory went silent [Science News].
Today, engineers were scheduled to test and calibrate the instruments to ensure that they're working properly with the data handling system, and they were confident that all systems would soon be go.
"Everything's going perfectly," said NASA spokeswoman Susan Hendrix [Reuters].
NASA plans to send up another spare computer with the space shuttle's Hubble upgrade mission, which was postponed because of the malfunction.
A spare unit is currently being tested at Goddard, and if that checks out, it will likely be brought up on Atlantis for installation (along with lots of other Hubble goodies) next year. Even when the new unit is in place, Hubble data will continue to flow through the Side B electronics, and Side A would become the backup. That's in line with a common-sense rule for engineers: "If it's no longer broke, don't try fixing it again" [MSNBC].
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