Hubble camera back on line; other instruments remain in ‘safe mode’

The upgraded Hubble Space Telescope, seen moments before release from the space shuttle Atlantis’ robot arm near the end of a final servicing mission in 2009. The observatory, now in its 32nd year of operation, suffered a data synchronisation glitch in October that has interrupted observations. Engineers have brought one instrument back on line and are working to restore the others to normal operation. Image: NASA

Engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have managed to restore the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys to normal operations, but the observatory’s other instruments remain in safe mode while engineers troubleshoot a complex data synchronisation glitch.

“Mission specialists are working hard to figure out how to bring the other instruments back to full operation,” said NASA science chief Thomas Zurbuchen. “We expect the spacecraft to have many more years of science ahead, and to work in tandem with the James Webb Space Telescope, launching later this year.”

The problem first cropped up on 25 October when Hubble’s flight computer put the telescope in protective “safe mode” after multiple data synchronisation errors were noted. Safe mode software put the observatory into a sort of electronic hibernation, halting all but essential operations to give engineers time to figure out what caused the problem.

On 7 November, the team was able to reactivate the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the instrument appears to be working normally. The team now is assessing near-term changes in how the payload computer and all the instruments monitor and respond to missing synchronisation messages in a bid to return them to service. That process is expected to take several more weeks.

In the meantime, NASA has awarded a $215 million contract extension to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) to continue Hubble science operations through 30 June 2026. Total value of the operations contract over Hubble’s three decades in space is about $2.4 billion.