Last week, the Hubble space telescope experienced a software failure, which ended up causing some other problems and required the telescope to enter safe mode. During the event, the instrument Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) suffered an unexpected error while the recovery of the mode in question happened, but, according to information from NASA, the instrument returned to active during the night of this Saturday (13).
The software error happened last Monday (9) with the recent installation of a system improvement, which should help to compensate for the fluctuation of one of the gyroscopes used to measure the speed of rotation of the telescope and which help it to position itself to focus on the desired objects. However, the improvement was not allowed to insert data into a specific location on the computer’s memory, and this caused a problem that required Hubble to enter safe mode.
In the end, the mission controllers deactivated the software, and the telescope resumed operations. However, the safety mode brought some more problems to the Hubble components: during operations in this mode, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) instrument was disabled and, in the system recovery, the WFC 3 presented an energy reading slightly below normal level. With this new anomaly, the instrument’s processes were suspended, and WFC 3 ended up entering an internal emergency mode for mission controllers to verify what happened.
After analyzing what happened, the teams found that the voltage levels of WFC 3 gradually dropped as the satellite’s electrical components aged. In addition, during safe mode, the hardware was turned off and therefore cooler. In the end, the lower than normal temperatures, combined with the energy that the components require to resume operations, were the factors that contributed to this small electrical fluctuation, which resulted in the suspension of WFC activities 3.
Other analyzes showed that it would be safe to reduce the limit a bit to avoid suspensions in the future, in addition to recovering the instrument to continue with scientific studies. Now, WFC 3 has been recovered and is expected to undergo some calibration and pre-observation activities later this week. Launched in 1990, the Hubble telescope has reached more than 30 years of activity, twice the time that was initially expected for its operation. Therefore, these occurrences, when added to other “scares” that have already occurred, signal the fatigue of the telescope and its instruments.