Image: Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope had a malfunction on Monday that lasted about 14 hours before engineers were able to restart it.
By Senior editor
updated 6/18/2009 1:13:56 PM ET 2009-06-18T17:13:56

The Hubble Space Telescope is bouncing back from a potentially alarming computer glitch just weeks after its last overhaul by astronauts.

Hubble program manager Preston Burch told that a computer in the iconic observatory's new data handling unit seized up inexplicably early Monday, forcing engineers on Earth to reboot the space telescope remotely.

"It locked up on us," Burch said. "It wouldn't send any telemetry and wouldn't accept any commands. It totally isolated the instruments from either onboard or on the ground."

The malfunction lasted about 14 hours before engineers were able to jumpstart the 19-year-old Hubble by shutting the telescope off, then restarting it remotely from the telescope's mission operations center at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"We certainly hope it's temporary," Burch said, adding that the glitch could become a bigger concern if it occurs more than a few times a year.

Hubble's instruments are healthy and in good shape now, but the problem has delayed the checkout process of instruments installed by astronauts last month by about a week, Burch said.

The space telescope is more powerful than ever after its latest overhaul by astronauts last month, mission managers have said.

Glitch under review
NASA traced the glitch to a control unit at the heart of Hubble's new science data handing module, which is responsible for beaming telescope images and data to Earth, as well as receiving commands from ground control.

Astronauts installed the device last month during their recent service call in order to replace an older one that failed last year. Hubble actually has two different strings of the unit for redundancy, a Side A and Side B, and is currently using Side B.

8 great space telescopes"The outcome could have been a lot worse," Burch said. "When this first happened, there was some fear and dread that this was a permanent failure that would force us to move to Side A. We were feeling kind of upset about that."

Rebooting Hubble by shutting down power and reactivating it — much like you would reboot a frozen computer — was the last option before contemplating the tricky switch to the Side A backup system, which is already 19 years old, Burch said.

Hubble managers will discuss the glitch's impact in more detail on Friday.

"I don't know that we will ever fully be able to identify the root cause of the problem," Burch said.

Launched in 1990, Hubble received its final overhaul in May by a team of seven NASA astronauts aboard the shuttle Atlantis.

The mission, NASA's fifth and final service call, included unprecedented repairs to revive two broken instruments. Two new cameras and other maintenance gear were also installed by astronauts during the flight's five spacewalks.

Until Monday's glitch, the tests and checks of Hubble's new systems were going well.

"It was going as smoothly as you could hope," Burch said. "It was right on track and all the equipment has been working beautifully."

NASA hopes to release the first new images from Hubble using its new cameras in September.

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