The Hubble Space Telescope has temporarily gone off-line as NASA engineers attempt to debug a problem with one of the 1980s-era computers installed on the orbiting platform that was launched in 1990, Space.com reports.
The error apparently stems from a failure of a memory module on the payload computer, called the NASA Standard Spacecraft Computer-1 (NSSC-1) system. While state of the art when built in the 1980s, the computer is now slow and worn down as it’s been exposed to space for more than three decades.
“The payload computer is from the 1980s, which is when Hubble was designed and built. Like all spacecraft hardware, the harsh environment of space can take its toll on electronics. That is why there are backup memory modules and a backup payload computer onboard the spacecraft that we can switch to if needed,” the operations team members wrote in the email.
Hubble was supposed to have an operational lifespan of just ten years, but with serving missions conducted using the space shuttle, the mission has continued for more than 31 years, continuing to contribute to scientific understanding of the universe.
This problem, however, may signal the end of Hubble’s functionality. NASA is giving no estimate on when the platform will be up and running again, but they are confident they’ll be able to restart the systems impacted, which will allow the telescope to operate for years to come.
“Assuming that this problem is corrected via one of the many options available to the operations team, Hubble is expected to continue yielding amazing discoveries into the late 2020s or beyond,” the operations team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland told Space.com in an email. However, “there is no definitive timeline yet as to when this will be completed, tested and brought back to operational status.”
It’s unclear whether one of the available options is to remove the 5¼” floppy disk and re-seat it in the drive before booting up.