NASA completes remote fix of Hubble's failed computer

Engineers switch telescope to redundant system as it orbits Earth

A team of NASA engineers and scientists completed a remote switchover from a failed computer in the Hubbard Space Telescope (HST) to an onboard backup system Wednesday.

In a normal enterprise, it's tough enough to power down a system, switch over to the redundant computer and then bring everything successfully back online. But, in this case, NASA did it from a room in the Goddard Space Flight Center in the US, while the telescope hurtled along its orbit around Earth at 17,500 mph.

"We won't know if we've been completely successful until around midnight Wednesday when we demonstrate that the [redundant system] is talking to the instruments and able to pass data to the ground," HST Operations Deputy Project Manager Keith Kalinowski said in a written statement.

The telescope, which has made more than 100,000 trips around Earth, was moved from the failed computer to the backup system. The backup computer then was loaded with data around noon and it successfully performed a data dump back to the ground to verify all the loads were proper, according to an email from NASA. Then, the team brought Hubble out of safe mode and placed the computer back in control.

NASA reported that its team will reconfigure the new system later today and test it to make sure it's functioning properly.

Late last month, the space agency announced that the computer failure was preventing data from being sent to Earth. Michael Moore, a program executive for the Hubble Space Telescope, has said that the computer problem is the worst the Hubble has suffered since it went into orbit more than 18 years ago.

This is the first Hubble computer malfunction that required the installation of a replacement system. "There's nothing young in the system," said Moore.

The problem lay in the Science Data Formatter, which is designed to take information from five onboard instruments, format it into data packets, put a header on it and then send it to Earth at speeds of up to 1Mbit/sec. Without this computer, Hubble can't take on long-planned research projects.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
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