A hardware problem has put the main camera onboard the Hubble Space Telescope out of operation, according to a brief statement released by NASA today (Jan. 9).
The issue with the Wide Field Camera 3 occurred on Jan. 8 at 12:23 p.m. EST (1723 GMT), according to the statement. NASA did not provide any details about the glitch itself beyond saying that it was caused by a hardware problem and that the camera carries redundant electronics that could be used to get the instrument running again.
It's not clear how long it will take to address the malfunction. It comes as NASA, like other agencies of the federal government, is partially shut down, and has been since Dec. 22, because Congress and President Donald Trump have failed to agree on a budget.
The head of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, wrote on Twitter about the malfunction, "This is when everyone gets a reminder about two crucial aspects of space exploration: 1) complex systems like @NASAHubble only work due to a dedicated team of amazing experts; 2) all space systems have finite lifetimes and such issues are bound to happen from time to time."
The telescope initially cost $1.5 billion in 1990 dollars, although that price doesn't include five in-space servicing missions conducted during the space shuttle era. The last of those missions, in 2009, installed Wide Field Camera 3. Hubble orbits far from the International Space Station, so ever since the end of the space shuttle program, in 2011, the telescope has been fending for itself.
Hubble carries three other active cameras — the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) — which are continuing to gather observations while Wide Field Camera 3 is offline, according to communications staff for the Space Telescope Science Institute, a contractor that operates Hubble.
Yesterday's camera glitch is not the first challenge Hubble has faced recently. A problem with one of the observatory's gyroscopes, which allow Hubble to point steadily in a specific direction, sidelined the telescope for much of October. However, engineers were able to get it working properly again. The fix allowed Hubble to resume operating with three gyros, although the telescope can operate on just one if necessary.