Image: Hubble
NASA
In a picture from 2002, the space shuttle Columbia's robot arm moves the Hubble Space Telescope out of the payload bay, at the end of its most recent servicing mission.
updated 10/1/2006 1:56:59 PM ET 2006-10-01T17:56:59

The main camera on the Hubble Space Telescope has shut down unexpectedly for the second time this year, the operators of the orbiting observatory announced Friday.

The Space Telescope Science Institute, which coordinates use of the telescope, said the Advanced Camera for Surveys shut down Saturday. Program managers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and at the institute were investigating the cause and what action to take.

In the meantime, observations on the Advanced Camera for Surveys were being rescheduled to use other instruments on the space telescope, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer, the Baltimore-based institute said.

The earlier shutdown of the main camera occurred in June, but operations resumed less than two weeks later after engineers switched the camera's electrical system to a backup power supply.

The orbiting Hubble telescope, launched in 1990 by the space shuttle, has revolutionized the study of astronomy with some of the most striking images ever seen in space.

However, a servicing mission by the space shuttle is needed to install two new instruments as well as fresh batteries and gyroscopes to keep the telescope working until 2011 or 2012. NASA is expected to give the official go-ahead for the mission later this fall, with launch expected by early 2008.

The space agency is funding the development of a next-generation orbital observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, as a follow-on to the Hubble. It's scheduled for launch no earlier than 2013.

This report was supplemented by information from MSNBC.com. In the initial version of this report, an incorrect date was listed for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

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