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Hubble Space Telescope instruments in 'safe mode' after glitch, stalling science

The Hubble Space Telescope as seen by astronauts during its final servicing mission, in 2009.
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen by astronauts during its final servicing mission, in 2009. (Image credit: NASA)

The iconic Hubble Space Telescope has closed its camera eye unexpectedly again.

The science instruments on the iconic telescope went into a protective safe mode on Monday (Oct. 25) "after experiencing synchronization issues with internal spacecraft communications," Hubble team members said via Twitter Monday (Oct. 25).

"Science observations have been temporarily suspended while the team investigates the issue. The instruments remain in good health," they added.

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time!

Hubble, a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency, launched into Earth orbit in April 1990 and has been showing some signs of its advanced age. For example, the observatory went offline for more than a month this past summer after suffering a glitch with its main payload computer. The team managed to get Hubble up and running again in July after switching to backup hardware.

The current issue may not be quite so serious, as it apparently affects just Hubble's science instruments and not the entire observatory. But we'll have to wait for more updates to learn more.

Hubble's long and storied history is full of hurdles overcome and challenges met. The observatory famously launched with a flawed primary mirror, for example, a serious problem that spacewalking astronauts fixed in December 1993.

Astronauts maintained and upgraded Hubble on four additional servicing missions, the last of which launched in 2009. Such attention helps explain how the scope has managed to stay so productive for so long.

NASA is gearing up to launch what it bills as Hubble's successor, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. Webb, which is optimized to view the heavens in infrared light, is scheduled to lift off atop an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket on Dec. 18.

Webb will head to the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 2, a gravitationally stable spot about 930,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from our planet. It was not designed with astronaut servicing in mind.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Mike Wall
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for Space.com since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.