back to article Hibernating instrument on Hubble roused as engineers ponder message problem

Ever had a component spew garbage and had to bodge around it? Engineers appear to be faced with a similar issue as they continue work to rouse the science instruments of the Hubble Space Telescope from their Safe Mode slumbers. The good news is that the team might be close to isolating the problem. The bad news is that the …

  1. Wally Dug
    Joke

    Hardware Outsourcing

    Just imagine if NASA had outsourced hardware support for the Hubble and some wee poor soul draws the short straw. "I've to go where?"

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Hardware Outsourcing

      If it turns out to be a hardware fault, NASA could send up a small robotic maintenance craft equipped with a high precision hammer.

      1. WonkoTheSane
        Alien

        Re: Hardware Outsourcing

        Perfect job for the X37B

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hardware Outsourcing

        I propose to call it "Maxwell"

      3. JWLong

        Re: Hardware Outsourcing

        I just happen to own a 7000 dollar hammer. I stole it from the Air Force in the 90's.

        I see a service contract in my future.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Hardware Outsourcing

      HST Team raise ServiceNow problem ticket.

      Outsourced Support Team immediately ask for more information, like "what is HST? what does it do?" thereby stopping the clock on the ticket SLA. That goes on for a bit, then OST passes problem onto some other team who have absolutely nothing to do with HST, still trying anything and everything possible to not do any investigation of the problem. Then eventually back to the HST team just before the system automatically closes the ticket as it has gone beyond a certain time frame.

      Joke icon. But the reality in a company I have worked for

  2. Omnipresent

    outdated hardware

    it probably downloaded an auto software update.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: outdated hardware

      Since it is in orbit, shouldn't that be upload rather, since it is pulling the data up to it?

      And download is when it transmits the data to Earth.

      I will leave for the pub now.

    2. Dante Alighieri Bronze badge
      Joke

      Re: outdated hardware

      expired certificate??

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: an auto software update.

      I agree, my android is having problems too.

      "The trouble with programmers is that you can never tell what a programmer is doing until its too late." - Seymour Cray

  3. Mike 137 Silver badge

    weird components doing funny things

    "We've all encountered that one weird component in our projects that occasionally does something strange and we end up having to code a bodge to deal with its funny little ways."

    Too true. On an instrumentation project decades ago, we found that the hardware 'full' flag of a dual port memory didn't reliably signal memory full. We'd intended this to allow user substitution of devices with different capacities. To work round it we had to implement a user defined initialisation parameter in the software of the data sender so the system knew what size memory had been installed.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: weird components doing funny things

      Mine in my first job as a schoolkid was a printer that would sometime ignore linefeed

      So I set it to 1/64 of a line (the minimum) and always sent 64 line feeds - if it missed one you would need a micrometer to tell.

      Still proud of that

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: weird components doing funny things

        Not one of those dodgy ICL printers by any chance ?

        I vaguely remember some of them had some sort of paper tape loop - though plastic to stop it from being worn away - and they couldn’t do line feeds either.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: weird components doing funny things

          ICL opd (the last vestige of the Sinclair QL) running nationwide Bingo games

  4. cipnt

    Use the backup

    When Nasa built the Hubble telescope they actually commissioned two identical ones, because when you're dealing with taxpayer money, why build one when you can build two at double the cost?

    The second one has been in a museum since then. Just dust it off and strap it to a rocket.

    There's an interesting story about that: the one in the museum apparently is better than the one in space because they were built by different contractors.

    1. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Use the backup

      I wonder if it has the same mirror error though?

      1. TheGriz

        Re: Use the backup

        i SERIOUSLY doubt the museum "look a like" actually even HAS a mirror inside it. This is simply a "mock up" for people to VIEW in a museum, not like it actually has working instrumentation inside it.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Use the backup

      Building a single copy of all your unique instruments right from the get go is a seriously stupid idea though. The actual hardware isn't the big cost (apart from the main mirror, that's a very expensive bit of hardware). For all the other stuff you make 2 and start assembling at least the more basic stuff, pick the best and then integrate all the best choices into a single vehicle for launch to orbit. I highly doubt the museum piece would be fully functional and orbit capable hardware. At the very least it'll be missing a mirror (they only made one. Incorrectly as it turns out)

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Use the backup

      There was a 'backup' mirror blank made but never polished.

      It's in the Smithsonian (or it was last time I saw it)

      This is normal practice for large or expensive mirrors - sometimes things happen in the grinding or polishing, a flaw is discovered or an accident takes a chunk out.

      Zeiss made a spare 8m mirror blank for the VLT (made 5 used 4) that they were trying to sell off to anybody who needed an 8m mirror - don't know what happened to that, probably got melted down.

      1. Rob Daglish Bronze badge

        Re: Use the backup

        Knowing Zeiss, they’ve probably forgotten where it is. A friend has some incredibly good, but definitely not cheap, Zeiss optical equipment.

        As they couldn’t come and service it in the pandemic, they sent a 30k machine out to use until the original was serviced, around September last year. We’re still falling over the spare now…

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Use the backup

        "There was a 'backup' mirror blank made but never polished."

        IIRC Orrefors made a very large cut glass bowl for an international exhibition. It was finished near the deadline - and then someone dropped it. They had to make a new one from scratch.

      3. hoola Silver badge

        Re: Use the backup

        I knew there wee two mirrors made and a bit of Googling comes up with this:

        https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/hubble-space-telescope-backup-mirror/nasm_A20010288000

        It was made but never silvered.

    4. HildyJ Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Use the backup - THEY ARE

      First, there is no need for a new mirror.

      Second, all the computer kit, which is where the problem lies, has backups.

      Third, they are already running on the backup kit since they brought the Hubble back to operational status in June when it encountered a similar issue.

    5. jonfr

      Re: Use the backup

      NSA built few for them self. That one in orbit is pointed at Earth and has a resolution about 30cm to 1 meter. How good it is remains a guess work because its classified on the technical specifications.

      NSA donated the two remaining to NASA in 2012.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_National_Reconnaissance_Office_space_telescope_donation_to_NASA

      1. the small snake
        Boffin

        Re: Use the backup

        Every time we do this.

        (1) The NRO carcasses are not Hubbles: their focal length is much shorter. (2) It is not clear if reusing one is even worth it for applications where wide field is suitable: I believe that NGRST is going to use one of the NRO carcasses, but there was (is?) much discussion over whether it would be cheaper to start from scratch. (3) Mirror is not this huge expense: consider VLT: this has 4 8.2m mirrors and 4 1.8m mirrors, and cost less in total than cost of a single shuttle flight to service HST.

        And finally (4) It is not clear to me that a new HST is even interesting now: suspect that for wavelengths it covers ground-based telescopes are now better. Certainly think if asked to choose between 10 VLTs and one new vidible-light telescope in space most astronomers would pick 10 VLTs. Certainly also is the case that there are telescopes that need to be in space – JWST for instance will do things that could not be done under atmosphere, but not clear that visible-light super-HST is interesting. But I am theorist: will defer to practicing astronomers on this (just not to space romantics).

        1. the small snake
          Boffin

          Re: Use the backup

          Well I asked someone about the visible-light-telescope-in-space question. One advantage is that adaptive optics typically give good image over quite small part of FOV, while in space you get good image over whole FOV. So that is one reason for it.

    6. the small snake
      Boffin

      Re: Use the backup

      When HST was delayed by Challenger disaster they had to keep telescope in storage for about four years. Keeping it in flight condition cost about $6 million a month, in late 1980s dollars. If this second, incomplete telescope could have flown in 1990 (it could not), then it has been in a dirty, uncontrolled environment full of horrid oxygen and other corrosive gases for 30 yeas since then: it certainly can not now,

    7. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: Use the backup

      The first rule of government spending, why build one when you can have two at twice the price!

      - S.R. Hadden.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Use the backup

        Corollary rule of government spending: build two, pay thrice the price!

        - Me, probably

  5. AndrueC Silver badge
    Flame

    We've all encountered that one weird component in our projects that occasionally does something strange and we end up having to code a bodge to deal with its funny little ways

    It's called Visual Studio but I stopped finding it's time wasting quirks funny a long time ago.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Joke

      We've all encountered that one weird component in our projects that occasionally does something strange and we end up having to code a bodge to deal with its funny little ways

      It's called Visual Studio but I stopped finding it's time wasting quirks funny a long time ago.

      They're not called "weird components" they're called "users".

  6. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Perspective

    Geez...and we complain about trying to troubleshoot $RELATIVE's computer over the phone...

    1. A. Coatsworth

      Re: Perspective

      But in all fairness, Hubble probably said something along the lines of "Error: ADBEAx000"

      Which is thousands of times more helpful than $RELATIVE:

      There's an error in my pc

      What error?

      An error. I don't know

      An error where?

      In internet

      What does the error say?

      I closed it

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Perspective

        I can't remember the machine, but I remember typing in a 2 or 3 page magazine listing. This was early '80s or so.

        I remember typing "run" and all it did was say "syntax error"

        No line number, nothing else. I think that machine went in the garbage soon after.

      2. AndrueC Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Perspective

        Yup we even get our own staff reporting errors to us by sending us a screenshot of the dialog box. Every single freakin' time our first reply is 'Can you send us the log files please?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Perspective

      Since they are all now using W10 or Apple - I can figuratively shrug my shoulders and honestly say "not in my competence". Ahh - bliss.

  7. Conundrum1885

    Malfunction

    nEEd inPuT

    Wonder if Hubble still uses 486's ?

  8. nautica Bronze badge
    Alien

    "...A software workaround for an iffy component looms. Sound familiar?"

    Of course it sounds familiar. It not only sounds familiar, this is the mind-set of anyone---and their reptilian-IQ managers---who is (laughingly) referred to as an "engineer", nowadays; to wit:

    "Software can fix any hardware problem."

    Just ask Boeing about its illustrious use of this "fix", to create---with software---a completely brand-new aircraft, the 737-MAX, out of a completely old airframe...which was---at the time it was designed---designed the old-fashioned way of designing aircraft: by real engineers, using real hardware, created for the design of real, safe aircraft.

    Now you know:

    Software can fix any hardware problem.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "...A software workaround for an iffy component looms. Sound familiar?"

      Completely agree, especially the reference to Boeing. Remember software operates on GIGO (garbage in / garbage out) principle.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: "...A software workaround for an iffy component looms. Sound familiar?"

      It could have worked fine if they had used 3 sensors and implemented a "voting" system to reject spurious data. The fault wasn't necessarily "fixing it in software". The fault was in doing so badly, ignoring the added hardware requirements and not providing training. Oh, and lying to aviation authorities about the nature and effect of the new systems of course. That's kind of a big issue all by itself even if it hadn't gone wrong.

      Airbus has very similar systems in all their aircraft, the difference being that they implemented them properly and pilots are trained in their existence, effects and failure modes.

  9. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Can SpaceX send up a couple of people to fix it? Sounds well within their technical capabilities and they'd get lots of nice publicity.

    1. Binraider Silver badge

      Lift capability, yes. Crew facilities for space walking, nope.

      X37B with remote control - maybe. But if it’s electronics giving up ghost, that’s some awkward cct board replacements to do without a human in the loop.

      Hubble is approaching the point of decommissioning while it can still be commanded to do so. No pressure on JWST or anything to take over.

      As has been said elsewhere building a bunch of expendable orbital scopes without the cost of the shuttle programme would have been cheaper. But politics versus efficiency is a long standing known issue. And A scope is better than no scope at all. Nobody “Had” to build Hubble.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "We've all encountered that one weird component in our projects that occasionally does something strange and we end up having to code a bodge to deal with its funny little ways."

    It has always surprised me how many hardware designers don't allow for metastability*** in logic components when interfacing with asynchronous inputs. It produces glitches that fulfil Murphy's Law with the Sod's Law rider "..at the worst possible moment".

    **Metastability is what happens to you when the doorbell chimes - and then the phone rings at the other end of the hall. You pause for an indeterminate moment - not sure which one to service. In logic gates there are input set-up timing constraints for reliable propagation times.

    1. Bitsminer Bronze badge

      metastable donkeys

      Place one donkey exactly in the middle between two identical stacks of hay.

      The donkey will starve to death trying to decide which stack to eat first.

  11. JWLong

    Just Shoot It

    And put it out of it's misery.

    It's like giving a 97 year old a heart transplant. The new heart saves them, but the operation kills them in the long run.

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