Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope breaks in middle of US government shutdown

Space agency scrambling to fix main camera even as operations have ground to a halt

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 10 January 2019 10:55 GMT
Hubble telescope zooms on galaxy NGC 1052-DF2

The main camera on Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope has broken – and the space agency isn't working properly either.

The problems with the famous telescope's instrument come as Nasa is unable to work properly because the US government is still in shutdown as Donald Trump attempts to get money to pay for his border wall.

That means many of the space agency's staff are unable to go into work and that it is having to work through two sets of problems at once.

Nasa said the camera stopped working Tuesday. Hubble's three other science instruments are still working fine, with celestial observations continuing.

This third incarnation of the wide field camera was installed by spacewalking astronauts in 2009. The camera has backup electronics that could be called into action, if necessary, according to Nasa.

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. It takes pictures in both visible and ultraviolet light, as well as near infrared.

Orbiting 350 miles (560 kilometers) above Earth, Hubble was launched in 1990 and visited by space shuttle astronauts, for repairs and upgrades, five times.

Nasa associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said that such problems were to be expected and that they were being looked over by experienced engineers.

"This is when everyone gets a reminder about two crucial aspects of space exploration: 1) complex systems like [the Hubble Space Telescope] 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," he posted.

Last fall, Hubble stopped working altogether for three weeks because of a pointing problem. This is the first time the camera has acted up like this, said Cheryl Gundy, a spokeswoman with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which handle science operations for the telescope.

"NASA is trying to pull together the team to try to diagnose the issue," Gundy said Wednesday.

"We would like to have Hubble back up and working as quickly as possible, and NASA is making that happen," even with the partial government shutdown, she added.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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