Hubble Space Telescope Bounces Back from Glitches

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)

The HubbleSpace Telescope appears to be in good health after weeks of troubleshootingfollowing a debilitating glitch that thwarted its ability to beam cosmic imagesback to Earth, NASA officials said Wednesday.

Engineers reactivated Hubble?s science instruments over the last week and arepoised to release the first new image from the iconic orbital observatory onThursday, said Susan Hendrix, a spokesperson for NASA?s Goddard Space FlightCenter in Greenbelt, Md., where spacetelescope operations are based.

?I?m sure they?re relieved,? Hendrix said of Hubble?s engineering team. ?Theyare just probably back to checking and double checkingtheir work.? 

The Sept.27 failure of a vital data relay channel left the 18-year-old Hubble telescopeunable to transmit the bulk of its science data and imagery.The channel, the Side A relay of Hubble?s Science Instrument Control and DataHandling system, had been working properly since the telescope launched inApril 1990.

Efforts toswitch to a backup Side B channel last week met with challengesof their own, with two separate glitches thwarting the initial attempt. Buta second try appears to have been successful, with Hubble engineersreactivating the telescope?s main science instruments over the last week.

The remotecontrol fix required engineers to power up and switch to backup systems thathad been hibernating since Hubble launched into space.

Hubble?sSeptember data relay channel failure prompted NASA to delay a planned Oct. 14space shuttle launch to send seven astronauts to the orbital observatory on a fifthand final service call to the telescope. That mission is now slated to flyno earlier than February, with Hubble engineers testing a spare data relaychannel to see if it can be added to the shuttle?s cargo bay and be installedduring the flight.

Hubbleofficials are expected to give an update today at 5:00 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) on plansfor the servicing mission. Theservice call is expected to include five spacewalks to add a new camera,upgrade guidance equipment, replace aging batteries and gyroscopes, deliver adocking ring and include repairs for systems never designed to be repaired inspace.

The finalHubble overhaul is expected to extend the space telescope?s mission lifetimethrough at least 2013, mission managers have said.

  • Video - Hubble Space Telescope Mission Control
  • Video - Hubble's Last Service Call
  • Images: Best of Hubble


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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.