The Hubble Telescope lost its main instrument – Wide Field Camera 3 – due to an unspecified hardware problem. NASA engineers, however, are unlikely to address the satellite’s troubles immediately due to the government shutdown.
Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 stopped working on Tuesday, NASA tweeted. The telescope continues to work with other instruments while the “anomaly” is investigated.
The breakdown of the Wide Field Camera 3 might not have left Hubble without its main tool permanently, as the system has a back-up set of electronics which can be activated in case of a critical malfunction. So far, it remains unclear when (and if) the camera will be fixed.
The ongoing government shutdown may throw a wrench into the works. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where Hubble’s mission is operated, is closed. In fact, only a handful of employees actively flying the telescope is allowed to work.
The head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said the breakdown highlights the importance of the “dedicated team of amazing experts” working with Hubble, yet again showing that all space systems have a limited lifespan.
Hubble was launched into orbit in 1990, and has received several upgrades since then. The last servicing mission occurred in 2009, when it received the now-malfunctioning camera, as well as other upgrades. The servicing missions were performed by space shuttles and ceased due to cancellation of the shuttle program.
Lack of proper maintenance has taken its toll on the telescope, which has been plagued by technical issues recently. In October of last year, Hubble was out of business for three weeks due to problems with its gyroscopes. The telescope packs six of them, yet three have already broke down over the years.
If one more breaks, Hubble will operate on only one, while the second will be put in reserve. This would leave the telescope effectively hobbled and unable to perform certain maneuvers.
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