It was mixed news for NASA. The good part was that the space agency managers proclaimed that they had successfully restarted the malfunctioning Hubble Space Telescope. The not so good part was the announcement that the earliest that they could be ready to send a repair team to the 18-year old telescope would be sometime around May 2009.
After a malfunction in Hubble's 135-pound data handling unit, the telescope was out of action for the past several weeks. In this time engineers have attempted to move those tasks from the malfunctioning side A of the telescope to the redundant side B. Reactivating two cameras on Hubble, scientists managed to beam its first pictures back to Earth after a number of weeks, releasing an image of a pair of interacting galaxies that seemed to form the number 10.
The images were made with Hubble's wide-field planetary camera and the advanced camera for surveys. Hubble aimed its prime working camera, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), at a particularly intriguing target, a pair of gravitationally interacting galaxies called Arp 147. The image demonstrated that the camera is working exactly as it was before going offline, thereby scoring a "perfect 10" both for performance and beauty. NASA has said it was hopeful of having Hubble's other instruments operating within the next few days.
Having sat idle in space for over 18 years, NASA was not completely sure that side B would work. However, now that it is in operation, Hubble manager Preston Burch of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland was quoted by the media as saying that he was "very confident" it would continue to work during the coming weeks.
NASA also said that a repair mission to fix Hubble's problems would be delayed yet again. It said that a problem has delayed the STS-125 launch due to the significant HST malfunction affecting the storage and transmittal of science data to Earth, the SM4 launch date has been moved into 2009.
Before the data-handling unit broke down, a repair team was to leave on 14 October for a rendezvous with the telescope to replace faulty gyroscopes and worn batteries.
Now, that mission would take longer to get into space as the team would carry with it another data handling unit that has been in storage thus far, and would need to be prepared before launch.
Reports quoted NASA officials as saying that Hubble would survive the waiting time easily without breaking down again. Three of Hubble's gyroscopes, which are important to keep it properly oriented, have failed, and it is presently running on two. If it comes to it, even one would be sufficient for NASA.
Moreover, after 18 years of service, Hubble's batteries are operating at half-capacity. NASA says that they are long past their designed lifetime, and that the prudent thing to do would be to replace them. However, they are confident they won't run out before the replacement gets to space.
This is the last scheduled repair mission for Hubble, which has been forced on the US space agency by public outcry that forced Congress to tell NASA to carry out the repairs.