Hubble Returns to Full Science Observations and Releases New Images

From NASA

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, exploring the universe near and far. The science instruments have returned to full operation, following recovery from a computer anomaly that suspended the telescope’s observations for more than a month.

These early snapshots demonstrate Hubble's return to full science operations, following correction of a computer anomaly aboard the spacecraft.

These images, from a program led by Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington in Seattle, demonstrate Hubble’s return to full science operations. [Left] ARP-MADORE2115-273 is a rarely observed example of a pair of interacting galaxies in the southern hemisphere. [Right] ARP-MADORE0002-503 is a large spiral galaxy with unusual, extended spiral arms. While most disk galaxies have an even number of spiral arms, this one has three.Credits: Science: NASA, ESA, STScI, Julianne Dalcanton (UW) Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Science observations restarted the afternoon of Saturday, July 17. The telescope’s targets this past weekend included the unusual galaxies shown in the images above.

“I’m thrilled to see that Hubble has its eye back on the universe, once again capturing the kind of images that have intrigued and inspired us for decades,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This is a moment to celebrate the success of a team truly dedicated to the mission. Through their efforts, Hubble will continue its 32nd year of discovery, and we will continue to learn from the observatory’s transformational vision.”

These snapshots, from a program led by Julianne Dalcanton of the University of Washington in Seattle, feature a galaxy with unusual extended spiral arms and the first high-resolution glimpse at an intriguing pair of colliding galaxies. Other initial targets for Hubble included globular star clusters and aurorae on the giant planet Jupiter.

Hubble’s payload computer, which controls and coordinates the observatory’s onboard science instruments, halted suddenly on June 13. When the main computer failed to receive a signal from the payload computer, it automatically placed Hubble’s science instruments into safe mode. That meant the telescope would no longer be doing science while mission specialists analyzed the situation.

The Hubble team moved quickly to investigate what ailed the observatory, which orbits about 340 miles (547 kilometers) above Earth. Working from mission control at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as well as remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions, engineers collaborated to figure out the cause of the problem.

Complicating matters, Hubble was launched in 1990 and has been observing the universe for over 31 years. To fix a telescope built in the 1980s, the team had to draw on the knowledge of staff from across its lengthy history.

Hubble alumni returned to support the current team in the recovery effort, lending decades of mission expertise. Retired staff who helped build the telescope, for example, knew the ins and outs of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling unit, where the payload computer resides – critical expertise for determining next steps for recovery. Other former team members lent a hand by scouring Hubble’s original paperwork, surfacing 30- to 40-year-old documents that would help the team chart a path forward.

On June 13, 2021, the Hubble Space Telescope’s payload computer unexpectedly came to a halt. However, the Hubble team methodically identified the possible cause and how to compensate for it.Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

“That’s one of the benefits of a program that’s been running for over 30 years: the incredible amount of experience and expertise,” said Nzinga Tull, Hubble systems anomaly response manager at Goddard. “It’s been humbling and inspiring to engage with both the current team and those who have moved on to other projects. There’s so much dedication to their fellow Hubble teammates, the observatory, and the science Hubble is famous for.”

Together, team members new and old worked their way through the list of likely culprits, seeking to isolate the issue to ensure they have a full inventory for the future of which hardware is still working.

At first, the team thought the likeliest problem was a degrading memory module, but switching to backup modules failed to resolve the issue. The team then designed and ran tests, which involved turning on Hubble’s backup payload computer for the first time in space, to determine whether two other components could be responsible: the Standard Interface hardware, which bridges communications between the computer’s Central Processing Module and other components, or the Central Processing Module itself. Turning on the backup computer did not work, however, eliminating these possibilities as well.

The team then moved on to explore whether other hardware was at fault, including the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter and the Power Control Unit, which is designed to ensure a steady voltage supply to the payload computer’s hardware. However, it would be more complicated to address either of these issues, and riskier for the telescope in general. Switching to these components’ backup units would require switching several other hardware boxes as well.

Nzinga Tull, Hubble systems anomaly response manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, works in the control room July 15 to restore Hubble to full science operations.

Nzinga Tull, Hubble systems anomaly response manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, works in the control room July 15 to restore Hubble to full science operations.Credits: NASA GSFC/Rebecca Roth

“The switch required 15 hours of spacecraft commanding from the ground. The main computer had to be turned off, and a backup safe mode computer temporarily took over the spacecraft. Several boxes also had to be powered on that were never turned on before in space, and other hardware needed their interfaces switched,” said Jim Jeletic, Hubble deputy project manager at Goddard. “There was no reason to believe that all of this wouldn’t work, but it’s the team’s job to be nervous and think of everything that could go wrong and how we might compensate for it. The team meticulously planned and tested every small step on the ground to make sure they got it right.”

The team proceeded carefully and systematically from there. Over the following two weeks, more than 50 people worked to review, update, and vet the procedures to switch to backup hardware, testing them on a high-fidelity simulator and holding a formal review of the proposed plan.

Simultaneously, the team analyzed the data from their earlier tests, and their findings pointed to the Power Control Unit as the possible cause of the issue. On July 15, they made the planned switch to the backup side of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling unit, which contains the backup Power Control Unit.

Victory came around 11:30 p.m. EDT July 15, when the team determined the switch was successful. The science instruments were then brought to operational status, and Hubble began taking scientific data once again on July 17. Most observations missed while science operations were suspended will be rescheduled.

This is not the first time Hubble has had to rely on backup hardware. The team performed a similar switch in 2008, returning Hubble to normal operations after another part of the Science Instrument and Command & Data Handling (SI C&DH) unit failed. Hubble’s final servicing mission in 2009 – a much-needed tune-up championed by former U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski – then replaced the entire SI C&DH unit, greatly extending Hubble’s operational lifetime.

Since that servicing mission, Hubble has taken more than 600,000 observations, bringing its lifetime total to more than 1.5 million. Those observations continue to change our understanding of the universe.

Members of the Hubble operations team work in the control room July 15 to restore Hubble to science operations.

Members of the Hubble operations team work in the control room July 15 to restore Hubble to science operations.Credits: NASA GSFC/Rebecca Roth

“Hubble is in good hands. The Hubble team has once again shown its resiliency and prowess in addressing the inevitable anomalies that arise from operating the world’s most famous telescope in the harshness of space,” said Kenneth Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, which conducts Hubble science operations. “I am impressed by the team’s dedication and common purpose over the past month to return Hubble to service. Now that Hubble is once again providing unprecedented views of the universe, I fully expect it will continue to astound us with many more scientific discoveries ahead.”

Hubble has contributed to some of the most significant discoveries of our cosmos, including the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, and the first atmospheric studies of planets beyond our solar system. Its mission was to spend at least 15 years probing the farthest and faintest reaches of the cosmos, and it continues to far exceed this goal.

“The sheer volume of record-breaking science Hubble has delivered is staggering,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We have so much to learn from this next chapter of Hubble’s life – on its own, and together with the capabilities of other NASA observatories. I couldn’t be more excited about what the Hubble team has achieved over the past few weeks. They’ve met the challenges of this process head on, ensuring that Hubble’s days of exploration are far from over.”

For more information about the first science images taken with Hubble following its return to science operations: https://hubblesite.org/contents/news-releases/2021/news-2021-045

For more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble

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Chris Morris
July 24, 2021 10:54 pm

Interesting that in the two photos, Ms Tull is the only one wearing a facemask. Or was it just a posed?

The Dark Lord
Reply to  Chris Morris
July 24, 2021 11:51 pm

a scientist not following the science … should make us all confident …

Greg
Reply to  The Dark Lord
July 25, 2021 12:11 am

“the science” is a politically driven term, used to suggest that science is an homogeneous, irrefutable “truth” that cannot be questioned. It implies that you either accept or reject “the science”. There is no debate, you are on board, or you are a science denier.

Science is a fluid, evolving state of knowledge, a constant debate.

This concept of “the science” seems to have appeared about 10y ago as an attempt to imply that the “the debate is over”. The same tactic is being applied to COVID politics. It is basically an implicit, supposed appeal to a authority, which is itself unscientific.

Last edited 2 months ago by Greg
Tom Abbott
Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 6:51 am

“This concept of “the science” seems to have appeared about 10y ago as an attempt to imply that the “the debate is over”.”

That sounds about right to me. It’s a way to shut people up, and a way for people who don’t understand the science to claim they do.

Bill Powers
Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 25, 2021 10:44 am

Whenever it was cooked up it was slow cooked in a bureaucratic committee meeting room and then distributed to all the media moguls to disseminate out to the great unwashed who don’t understand science.

The media moguls include Georgie Soros who runs the counter intelligence on comment boards and pays, indirectly, the Low doe Grifters on WUWT.

IAMPCBOB
Reply to  Bill Powers
July 25, 2021 12:21 pm

A great many of the science ‘experts’ ALSO do not understand the science! If they did, they wouldn’t use this fake claim, since the science is seldom, if ever, settled! Science is FULL of unproven theories, waiting to BE proven! In he meantime, all we have, really, are SUPPOSITIONS

Definition of supposition something that is supposed HYPOTHESIS

Source  MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARIES

Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 8:26 am

“the science”
=========
Engineers

Greg
Reply to  The Dark Lord
July 25, 2021 12:30 am

a scientist not following the science … should make us all confident …

Hubble just started working. should give us confidence we don’t need to wear masks.

Greg
Reply to  Chris Morris
July 24, 2021 11:56 pm

Good point, she’s either a virtue signalling Democrat or she is involved in some “outreach” filming. NASA folks are all under strict instructions to wear masks while on air. Just to send the right messaging to the unwashed deplorables.

Most of the POC seem to be there for PR work. Watch NASA TV shows and they always have a preponderance of ethnics of all shades and colours. It’s all highly choreographed virtue signalling.

Last edited 2 months ago by Greg
Greg
Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 12:24 am

OK, she’s a “MS” , mark here down a Dem.

Don’t forget that CRT tells us being good at mathematics and science is a sign of white privilege and inherent racism, so I guess most of the engineers they hire have to be white racists otherwise the rockets would never get to orbit.

Last edited 2 months ago by Greg
Chris Morris
Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 1:23 am

Greg
I don’t know what the politics or marital status of the  Hubble systems anomaly response manager are. I just gave her the honorific Ms to politely identify her. She may well have a relevant PhD. If that had been in the article, I would have identified her as Dr Tull. The honorific identification was just being common courtesy.
Doing a web search shows she has a double degree in engineering and technology, and has a dad who is an engineer, so she is almost certainly there on merit

Greg
Reply to  Chris Morris
July 25, 2021 1:44 am

I hadn’t noticed it was you added the MS. I was asuming it was the NASA attribution. Checking back they just say Nzinga Tull.

If you wanted to be politically correct you could have done the same since her gender is not relevant.

Maybe some one told her POC are at a higher risk, and working on a computer she is vitamin D3 deficient.

Last edited 2 months ago by Greg
Drake
Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 8:51 am

And the fact that POC are, if obese or older, are deficient in D is well known.

The RACIST Fauci failed to mention the need for POC to supplement with D, and didn’t even mention D until September of last year.

Almost like he wanted POC to die at greater numbers, to help with the election.

Just because you are a conspiracy theorist, doesn’t mean it is not a conspiracy!

PaulH
Reply to  Chris Morris
July 25, 2021 6:49 am

The virus is too small to be blocked by those dime-store face masks. Perhaps they can refocus the Hubble to magnify the CV-19 lurking in the galaxy? 😋

Greg
July 24, 2021 11:42 pm

“While most disk galaxies have an even number of spiral arms, this one has three.”

It depends how you count the arms. I see two long symmetrical arms , one which has a section which has collapsed back towards the core, since there is a break in the upper arm which corresponds to the “third arm”.

May be there was in interaction with another smaller galaxy, or other reason for this collapse but it does not seem correct to call this a third arm.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 6:56 am

It kind of looks like the Milky Way galaxy, to me.

beng135
Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 25, 2021 10:52 am

That’s what I see, according to what the Milky Way is thought to look like w/a prominent, medium-sized central bar. But there might have been a recent encounter w/another galaxy as one of the arms has been pulled outward.

Last edited 2 months ago by beng135
Greg
July 24, 2021 11:43 pm

“it automatically placed Hubble’s science instruments into safe mode. That meant the telescope would no longer be doing science while mission specialists analyzed the situation.”

Whatever happened to the word scientific? That is the adjective for science, so that should be “scientific instruments”. For some reason it now seems to be fashionable at NASA to abandon use of the word scientific.

Also telescopes and satellites do not “do science”. They have sensors which record data. It is human beings which do the science.

This is not pedantry. All those images are just nice wall paper until skilled and trained scientists “do science” on them and extend our understanding and knowledge. That is what science means, not taking pretty photos.

Greg
July 24, 2021 11:44 pm

There seems to be some odd filtering going in here. A totally innoculous comment seems to have been held for moderation. I can’t even see any substring of a word which could trigger a filter.

(It happens Greg, your comment is approved) SUNMOD

Last edited 2 months ago by Greg
Greg
Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 12:15 am

Thanks SUNMOD.
I was also unable to edit that comment while it was in moderation, so if I had used a potentially “naughty” word, I would not have been able to correct it. Being able to edit would probably mean less work for mods.

I also did not get the usual tool bar of formatting tools: B I U S etc. I’ve seen that previously on first posts. Then it’s OK.

I often find my first post on any particular day is held, then it goes fine. Am I on probation?

(NO) SUNMOD

Last edited 2 months ago by Sunsettommy
Tom Abbott
Reply to  Greg
July 25, 2021 6:57 am

I got one of them the other day. No trigger words I could see.

July 25, 2021 3:17 am

To fix a telescope built in the 1980s, the team had to draw on the knowledge of staff from across its lengthy history.

Ah, the old issue of the need for a corporate memory, something that the hire and fire bean-counters never seem to understand.

John Dueker
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
July 25, 2021 6:21 am

Not only bean counters, every line manager should be responsible for retaining hard earned knowledge and making it accessible.

In my view it’s a terrible failure of NASA management that this was not done. But its hard to be sure how much poetic license was taken in the article.

Michael in Dublin
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
July 25, 2021 7:45 am

Fire the oldies and get in younger programmers and when they cannot fix the problem pay a company a s..t load of money to fix it after many delays. The problem is when the person doing the hiring and firing has little understanding of programming and has no way of personally assessing the oldies – some who need to be retired – and the newbies – who may despite their degrees be dismal and need to be given marching orders.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
July 25, 2021 10:05 am

“Ah, the old issue of the need for a corporate memory, something that the hire and fire bean-counters never seem to understand.”

That is only part—maybe even a minor part—of the full story: time moves forward, people retire, memories fade, people die, records are lost . . . such is life.

Anyone know how to build a pyramid in the sands of Egypt without post-1700’s AD machinery?

That is NOT the result of hire-and-fire mentality.

Tom Abbott
July 25, 2021 6:49 am

From the article: “Hubble alumni returned to support the current team in the recovery effort, lending decades of mission expertise.”

Got to love it!

Very good!

Now Musk has more time to work on a new Hubble rescue mission for in the future when the inevitable will happen. Fortunately, Hubble is designed to be upgraded and we should do so as long as the mirror is working properly.

Randy Stubbings
July 25, 2021 9:08 am

I am surprised that the press release did not state that we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels to prevent future failures of the telescope.

kudos to the team for looking at the actual problem and coming up with actual solutions. Maybe they could teach climate scientists how to do that.

Michael S. Kelly
July 26, 2021 2:25 am

Kudos to the team for making this repair. Hubble has been a national treasure for lo these many years, and it’s great to see it back in operation.

I have to wonder, though: did they try turning it off and on again?

Romeo Rachi
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
July 27, 2021 8:18 am

I love that series! Super funny.

MDN
July 26, 2021 9:22 am

It is great to see that they succeeded with this repair. I fear Hubble will not be with us much longer though as almost all platform redundancy has now been exhausted. With no more backup gyros and many fewer computer sub-systems it is only a matter of time…

it is an interesting idea to entertain a SpaceX based repair mission now that their manned Dragon is operational, but I wish someone would build an 8m optical space telescope instead. Super Heavy supports an 8m fairing and the AZ mirror lab pops out mirrors that size monthly nowadays. So it is time to go bigger.

Or, since redundancy is important as this story shows, perhaps the better answer would be to build a new swarm of 1m class space telescopes instead? Wouldn’t it be cool if Elon had SpaceX engineer a standard chassis equal to say the mass of 6 Starlink satellites, and reworked the deployment platform to launch 60 Starlinks and one new space observatory with every Starlink launch instead of the 66 Starlinks they launch today? These would integrate into the constellation for comms and could be instrumented with many different types of sensors, and operate collectively and independently, greatly improving scientifically useful productivity.

Just a thought : )

MDN
July 26, 2021 9:50 am

BTW, I wanted to comment wrt to Ms Tull wearing a mask as well. I understand the idiocy of mask mandates and empathize with the anti-authoritarian sentiment of many who post here. That said however I think it is in poor taste and counter productive to make comments as were made here. It will not convince anyone on the authoritarian side and is too easy for them to characterize as anti-science denialism.

In my opinion she is absolutely within her rights to wear a mask if that is what makes her comfortable. And the others who are maskless are absolutely within their rights to exercise less caution if they are comfortable with that. This is the way IT SHOULD BE!!!

I have travelled on business to Asia many times over my career and as I have noted since the pandemic started masking is a common and useful practice as Asian cultures practice them. They ARE appropriate if one is feeling under the weather but in need of being out and about, and they are worn in such cases in Asia as a SOCIETAL COURTESY to everyone else because masks (even crappy cloth ones) DO minimize the spread of gunk when you sneeze or cough.

And while masks are not nearly as effective in blocking receipt of a virus, if you are a person at risk for some reason (and there are many), wearing a one to protect yourself IS a prudent measure.

So let’s commend NASA for embracing a rational masks optional policy here and respect the decisions everyone made as in their best interest.

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