NASA Draws Plan to Revive Hubble Space Telescope

Over the past 20 years, Hubble has delivered new discoveries and breathtaking images. The most amazing discovery has been Hubble’s longevity.
(Image credit: NASA)

NASA engineersare finalizing plans to resuscitate the ailing Hubble Space Telescope, which hasbeen unable to beam home its trademark iconic images of the universe for weeksdue to equipment failure.

Hubbleengineers at the telescope?s mission control center in Greenbelt, Md., havespent the last few weeks since the Sept.27 failure of the orbital observatory?s main data transmission channel reviewingprocedures to switch to a backup system, with a final center meeting set fortoday. Mission engineers also met Thursday discuss the plan, with top NASA officialsexpected to give a final review on Tuesday.

?We are stillmarching forward in our process,? said Ed Campion, a spokesperson at NASA?sGoddard Space Flight Center, which oversees Hubble operations. ?Right now, Iwould characterize the things that came out of that meeting yesterday as positiveand we?re planning on moving forward.?

Hubble?sscience silence stems from the lossof the Side A channel in a device called a Control Unit/Science DataFormatter, which failed for good last month after 18 years of service since thespace telescope?s launch in 1990. There is a backup, Side B, but switching to thatchannel is an arduous process that includes moving five separate systems to thesame string as well.

The failureforced NASA to delay plans to launch sevenastronauts to Hubble aboard the space shuttle Atlantis on onelast service call on the orbital observatory. The shuttle was slated tolaunch on Oct. 14, but will now lift off no earlier than early 2009.

?They aretaking a very detailed look at everything that is involved in making thisswitchover to Side B,? Campion said.

If top NASAofficials sign off on the systems switch on Tuesday, engineers could begin theSide B activation as early as Wednesday morning, he added.

?It?s apretty lengthy process,? Campion said. ?They?ve described this as being like a40-some-hour process.?

Meanwhile,a separate team of engineers is continuing work to study a spare for the faileddata formatter that has been in storage at Goddard for the last two decades.

NASA wantsto ensure the spare unit is spaceworthy and in working order before includingit aboard the space shuttle Atlantis to be added among the other upgradesplanned for Hubble?s last overhaul. The agency is expected to brief the public on its Hubble repair plan in a televised briefing on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT).

Commandedby veteran astronaut Scott Altman, Atlantis? astronaut crew plans to performfive back-to-back spacewalks to install new cameras, replace aging batteriesand broken gyroscopes, upgrade Hubble?s guidance system and add a docking ringto the space telescope. The astronauts also plan to attempt to fix instrumentsnever designed for in-space repairs and hope to extend Hubble?s mission throughat least 2013.

WithAtlantis? launch to Hubble delayed to next year, NASA has turned its attentionto the next shuttle flight - STS-126aboard Endeavour. That mission is due to launch toward the InternationalSpace Station on Nov. 14 to deliver new life support equipment and supplies designedto allow the orbiting laboratory to expand to larger, six-person crews.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.