January 26, 2022

The Hubble Space Telescope computer failure in the 1980s may have been deeper than NASA thought

It is difficult to troubleshoot a computer from the 1980s that orbits the Earth hundreds of kilometers above our heads.
It took NASA more than a week to evaluate a computing problem that caused the old Hubble Space Telescope to go out of use on June 13 and could force the spacecraft to switch to its backup computer. Now, according to the agency update, ongoing testing indicates that the problem the team has identified so far may not be the root cause of the computer problem.

“After testing various memory modules in the computer, it turns out that the problem may be caused by different hardware. Memory errors are just a symptom,” NASA officials wrote in a statement issued Tuesday (May 22). June).
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Although the initial failure indicates that the memory module is degrading, the team now suspects that the source of the problem may be in the computer’s central processing module or in the drive’s connection to the interface hardware.

Now, the statement adds that the team is designing tests to identify problems with more confidence, these tests “will be carried out in the next few days.” The
NASA statement indicates that the team has not given up hope of restoring the main payload computer, but does make a plan to determine if the feat will not be accomplished. The telescope has a backup computer, like the mainframe, it was installed during the last astronaut maintenance mission in 2009, but has not been used since.
“The backup computer has not been turned on since it was installed in 2009; however, it was thoroughly tested on the ground before being installed on the spacecraft,” NASA officials wrote in the statement.

If the team is forced to switch to a backup unit, Hubble will switch to the central processing module and the unit’s interface hardware. NASA pointed out that changing the computer will not affect access to the four memory modules on the spacecraft. On April 25, 1990,
astronauts deployed the Hubble Space Telescope from the Space Shuttle Discovery; five astronauts subsequently visited the orbiting spacecraft to repair and upgrade the technology and instruments on board. However, NASA can no longer send such missions to repair the telescope because they rely on the agency’s space shuttle fleet that was retired in 2011.
Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels @space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and Facebook.

Meghan Bartels
SPACE.COM Lead Writer, Meghan is a science reporter in New York City. He joined Space.com in July 2018, and his previous articles have been published in Newsweek and Audubon and other outlets. Megan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classical literature from Georgetown University. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels.


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