Months after engineers resurrected the Hubble Space Telescope from the dead, the flying observatory is once again under threat. The spacecraft, which has been our eyes into the vastness of the cosmos, has gone into safe mode configuration suspending science operations forcing Nasa to launch an investigation.

“The instruments are healthy and will remain in safe mode while the mission team continues its investigation,” the American space agency said.

Nasa got the worrying ping at 1.46 am EDT on October 23 when Hubble’s science instruments issued error codes indicating the loss of a specific synchronization message. The message provides timing information that the instruments used to correctly respond to data requests and commands. The mission had then reset the instruments to resume science operations onboard.

However, the telescope went into safe mode on October 25 after the science instruments again issued error codes indicating multiple losses of synchronisation messages. The telescope team said that the science instruments then autonomously entered a safe mode state as programmed.

“Mission team members are evaluating spacecraft data and system diagrams to better understand the synchronisation issue and how to address it. They also are developing and testing procedures to collect additional data from the spacecraft. These activities are expected to take at least one week,” Nasa said in a statement on Tuesday.


Hubble had gone dark in June earlier this year as well. The month-long shut down was owing to a faulty payload computer onboard Hubble that coordinates science operations. When the main computer failed to receive a signal from the payload computer on June 13, it automatically placed Hubble’s science instruments into safe mode, making it blind in space.

The Hubble has been in service for over three decades and has survived different teams and engineers over the years. The Hubble has faced several problems in the past as well when it was last repaired in 2009. The telescope earlier encountered problems related to its Imaging Spectrograph that suffered a power failure in 2004, followed by an electrical short in 2007 that affected its Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) — the primary camera for the telescope.


The Hubble Space Telescope, which recently completed 30 years of service beyond Earth’s orbit, was first launched in 1991. The observatory has been key in some of the most significant discoveries of our cosmos, including the accelerating expansion of the universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, and the first atmospheric studies of planets beyond our solar system.

The ageing telescope will soon have a partner beyond Earth’s orbit as the James Webb Telescope launches in December. Once launched from French Guiana, the Ariane 5 rocket will deliver the telescope directly into a precision transfer orbit towards its destination, the second Lagrange point (L2). This point is four times farther away than the Moon, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the direction away from the Sun.

The James Webb Telescope, once up, will give a unique opportunity to study the origins of the universe taking over from the Hubble Space Telescope, which has remained the source of deep space observation for decades.


India today

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