LOS ANGELES — The Hubble Space Telescope has experienced another outage that has temporarily shut down the more powerful Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph instrument on the powerful telescope that is famous for its incredible ability to peer deep into the universe.
Hubble was experiencing a safe mode glitch while waiting for a system upgrade that will allow the U.S. space agency to take the 17-year-old space telescope and extend its operation into the next decade, space agency officials said Monday.
A glitch caused Hubble to shut down March 13, forcing NASA and other partners to replace two of the telescope’s four gyroscopes, which collect and relay data from the telescope, as well as its batteries and fuel tank, a partnership team said.
The telescope has been in safe mode — which involves simply shutting down its instruments and spinning its camera and gas filters — since then.
“This is an incredibly rare occurrence and may seem interminable,” David Leckrone, the project scientist for Hubble, said in a statement on Monday. “The team can’t catch up to Hubble’s hardware delays because it’s a critical mission that needs to be done now.”
Hubble was launched in 1990 to study the most distant galaxies, as well as the faint glow of hydrogen gas in outer space. Since its launch, it has catalogued over 2 million galaxies and pinpointed the existence of millions more.
The Hubble replacement, known as the Wide Field Camera 3, is set to launch Aug. 11. The wider field of view and increased brightness will allow the telescope to focus in on a previously unobserved faint source in deep space, NASA said.
A backup system has been put in place for a scheduled replacement of the two gyroscopes on May 12, during a second safe mode, the project team said.
Officials are hoping that the replacement will be able to start collecting data again, and a recent image taken by the Hubble’s camera returned conclusive evidence that the telescope is working. The image was unveiled at an April 18 NASA event in conjunction with a presentation by Donald Yeomans, the director of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program.
NASA also said it was preparing another two backup systems for launch on June 11, including a second ground control system and a new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and Wide Field Camera 3 camera, which will be combined for enhanced observation.
While the replacement instrument has been delayed, NASA said its dedication and installation ceremony on Sept. 15 will be the centerpiece of a celebration of Hubble’s 20th anniversary.