back to article NASA readies commands to switch on Hubble's back-up hardware

NASA is preparing to have another crack at restoring the veteran Hubble telescope to service with a multi-day test of procedures to fire up back-up hardware aboard the spacecraft. After US Independence Day celebrations drew to a close, engineers kicked off procedures to switch more of the Hubble's internals to back-up units, …

  1. Pirate Dave Silver badge


    In space, no one can hear you breathe.

    Best of luck to them, though. Hopefully they can get things going again.

    1. Red Ted

      Re: Duh!

      Given some very clever people built it, with a level of over engineering[*] that we have seen in the Space Extender series, and there are now a number of very clever people trying to fix it, I am quite hopeful for its revival.

      [*] I think “over engineering” is the wrong term as that implies waste, but what I mean is the level of engineering where you can cope with multiple simultaneous failures. Even in the days that they could send a Space Shuttle to fix it that wasn’t something you could do at the drop of a hat and it was better (and a bucket load cheaper) that you could fix it remotely.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Duh! - 'over engineering'

        I believe that NASA calls it 'multiple redundancy'. The idea being that as one component an equivalent component can be used. However there are some that are not duplicated, such as the main mirror.

        We can only hope that NASA can retrieve the situation, although it is not doing too badly as:

        "NASA suggested that the lifetime of the space telescope be 15 years"

        "on April 24, 1990, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Earth with the Hubble Space Telescope nestled securely in its bay. The following day, Hubble was released into orbit,"

        from:, section on 'The Space Shuttle', 2nd paragraph, and 'Hubble is Born', final para.

        So it is almost 31 years old in orbit.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Duh! - 'over engineering'

          The duplicate hardware has been exposed to the space environment for an equally long time so there's no guarantee that it's in any better condition nor how long it's going to remain working if it is. It will be a sad day if it does prove to be the end. Fingers crossed.

  2. Chris G

    If the bypass fails

    I recommend firing a well aimed solid copper hammer at it so that on arrival the hammer gives a healthy nudge.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Elon is going up there soon. His Tesla is already up there. Maybe he can take a quick spin over to turn it off and on again?

    1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      Elon's ships are not (yet) set up for space walks, robotic arms, etc. It will be a few years until he can help with Hubble's current problem, which could be too late.

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        I think someone's sarcasm detector has failed this morning.

  4. nematoad

    Here's hoping.

    "...some within NASA may wish to cut their losses and focus on the impending launch of the James Webb Space Telescope,"

    Well as the old saying goes " A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," so I think that NASA would be wise to try and get Hubble working again before relying on a system that is massively over budget and years late and is still to get to orbit and actually function once there.

    There are some really smart and capable people working at NASA and if any one can pull off the revival of the old girl then it will be them.

    Good luck!

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Here's hoping.

      And of course they have different capabilities, one is not merely a superset of the other. Additionally of course if you have two instruments they can look at different things at the same time.

  5. Ribfeast

    I thought it was "A hand on the bird is not as good as two in the bush" ;)

  6. alain williams Silver badge

    Voyager spacecraft

    All of this shows how remarkable that Voyager 1 & Voyager 2 launched in 1977, some 44 years ago, are still working. OK: running out of power and simpler computers with some problems but still not failed.

  7. sitta_europea Silver badge

    "Ultimately, our source told us, the best bet for Hubble would be to identify the failed bit of hardware and find a configuration that bypasses the faulty component."

    No shit?!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      There are two pretty hard verbs in that statement.

  8. MonsieurTM

    Please, please, please do STOP saying how the Space Shuttle (now retired) could be sent up to fix the Hubble. Yes if COULD. But the Shuttle system had major flaws:

    1. Dangerous: the big wings, designed for dropping nukes on Russia over the poles, were useless in actual use and a source of deaths. (The tile hit the *WING* leading edge.)

    2. Horrendously expensive: at ~$1.3bln PER LAUNCH it makes the ~$70 million for a much more reliable (at the time) launch on a Proton look totally, utterly, cheap. So expensive was the Space Shuttle that the "bottomless pockets" of the US Airforce ran away from it. It was basically only reserved for human-launch and cargo with them. At a massive cost.

    3. Ridiculously risky: by today's standard the Hubble servicing flight is impossible. The radiation dose at ~600m vs 200-odd for LEO. The fact that the Shuttle did not have enough reserve fuel in that flight o make a second attempt at re-entry. The fact there was absolutely NO backup plan: they were simply too high, no other Shuttle could get that high, not other ship. If anything went wrong, they were dead.

    4. The Hubble is ancient. At a cost of ~$1.3bln per launch at one a year, say, means that to keep the Shuttle flying just because one might need it ~15 years in the future means one has to pay, let's call it $25bln. Now even the James Webb, hugely over-budget as it is is about half that price. The Hubble is simply not worth saving via a manned launch and never would be.

    In summary the Shuttle was a huge white-elephant that was so costly only NASA could afford to use it. The costs involved sapped so much of NASA's budget that other programmes were simply not done let alone shut down. It was a murderous mill-stone as people actually died due to such serious design flaws in the vehicle that those flaws could never be rectified (the huge wings). A technological dead end. As dead-end as having people in space-stations to photograph the Earth to spy on others, which was replaced by spy-satellites - cheaper, safer and better.

    1. MonsieurTM

      Even V.Glushko, the famous rocket engine designer and Chief Engineer of the Soviet Energya/Buran system expressed an opinion of: "I do not know what it is for: everything it can do, can be done more cheaply, swiftly and safely with existing systems. All our top scientists at the Academy of Sciences cannot think of a use for it. Not even when we *want" them to make things that weigh 20 tons, they can do the same, more reliably and cheaply with what we have got. But we shall build it and get it working, hopefully by then we'll have worked out what it is for." And about using it to nuke the Soviet Union over the pole? Again the opinion was: "we can do that more cheaply and easily and faster with the mobile ballistic-missile (think SS-18 & 19) launchers we already have or with ballistic-missile equipped nuclear submarines". And that was the exact reason the US Airforce quit from paying to support the development of the Shuttle in the late 70s. So the reason for the big wings was redundant long before it launched, but too late in the design phase to be removed. It became a classic "pork-barrel project" that Musk has successfully taken the US government to court over.

      But it was pretty.

    2. MonsieurTM

      The US Mercury-era DOS project was cancelled even before lift-off. The Soviet Alamz project only delivered two spy-stations into orbit and was subsequently cancelled as their (Vostok-based) spy satellites became so cheap, reliable and successful.

    3. MonsieurTM

      Oh and the Shuttle had two un-survivable phases: immediately after launch, but before the emergency escape system could be used: they were not high enough to exit the craft safely even with the remedies done. Also at re-entry. The re-entry had no backup at all. If that failed the only option was the total loss of the craft & death of the crew. The fact they wore suits whilst re-entering was pointless: the suits would not be able to protect them at that altitude and extreme mach at all. After the second loss the latter issue was tragically clear in the subsequent investigation. (No one was held accountable for this because the design of the suits was not for the re-entry phase at all. One then wonders why they even bothered to wear the suits at all? Especially as the pilots often removed their gloves completely so they could operate the controls not just easily, but SAFELY! So the suits were totally compromised on re-entry, even if they were designed for it, which they were not as that was, at that earlier time outside the scope of the design requirements!)

      The Buran also suffered from at most one of these issues due to the requirement of ejection seats, much more bulky suits (almost space-suits) and greater over-build for the re-entry, but it still suffered the same total-loss of integrity of the vehicle loss: at mach 20-odd there is simply inadequate research on how a human can survive with minimal equipment at such high altitudes. The Soviets hoped that automation, backups and sufficient protection should be enough. Well - the Americans thought that too and we know the human costs of such presumptions.

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