Three months after being hobbled by a gyroscope glitch, the Hubble Space Telescope has suffered another malfunction. This time, it is the spacecraft’s main camera — the Wide Field Camera 3 (WF3) — that got knocked off-line, NASA announced today, citing “a hardware problem” as the cause of the anomaly.
According to the space agency, the camera glitch occurred on January 8, and caused the WF3 instrument to suspend operations at 12:23 p.m. EST. Although NASA didn’t provide any details about the mechanical problem that crippled the WF3, it did however note that the instrument — which was installed on the space telescope during Hubble’s Servicing Mission 4 in 2009 — carries backup electronics that could be used to switch the camera back on-line — once the problem has been diagnosed.
Luckily, the Hubble Space Telescope is equipped with three other functional cameras, notes Space. These are the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) — all of them still active and ready to continue Hubble’s ground-breaking work in imaging the distant cosmos.
“Hubble will continue to perform science observations with its other three active instruments, while the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly is investigated,” NASA officials said in a statement.
At 17:23 universal time, the Wide Field Camera 3 suspended operations due to a hardware problem. Hubble will continue to perform science with its other instruments while the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly is investigated: https://t.co/ETEDYPwDtd
— Hubble (@NASAHubble) January 9, 2019
As Phys.org points out, the WF3 instrument photographs the universe in both visible and ultraviolet light, as well as near-infrared. Said instrument has contributed to some extraordinary celestial observations as the main camera on board the Hubble Space Telescope.
“The camera has captured stunning images of stars, galaxies stretching far back in time and assisted in deep sky surveys. It’s also studied objects in our own solar system, discovering some of the tiny moons around Pluto, as well as a 14th moon around Neptune.”
While NASA has specified that engineers could be able to recover the use of the WF3 camera, it is unclear how long it will take to address the problem, given that the space agency has been partially shut down since December 22 — just like other agencies of the federal government.
As science journalist Alexandra Witze points out in an article published in Nature, NASA “engineers are unlikely to be able to fix the ageing [sic] telescope until the ongoing U.S. government shutdown ends — whenever that might be.”
Commenting on the Hubble camera malfunction, NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, shared a poignant message on what it takes to keep a long-duration space mission — such as the Hubble observatory — running for so many years.
This is when everyone gets a reminder about two crucial aspects of space exploration: 1) complex systems like @NASAHubble only work due to a dedicated team of amazing experts; 2) all space systems have finite life-times and such issues are bound to happen from time to time???????????? https://t.co/1Bd0NcmVVW
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) January 9, 2019
Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has just recovered from a gyroscope glitch that caused it to shut down in orbit for approximately three weeks. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the device is crucial for maintaining the observatory’s orientation — and helps the telescope turn in space, and lock onto its observational targets.
In late November, the 29-year-old spacecraft shared its first space photo after resuming science operations — captured with the WF3 camera on October 27, as the Inquisitr reported at the time.