JAN 09, 2019 4:33 PM PST

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 Instrument Temporarily Shuts Down Amid Technical Difficulties

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is perhaps one of the most critical space observatories in existence today. Despite launching into orbit around the Earth almost three decades ago, it continues to lead astronomical observations and provide astronomers with comprehensive data about the universe around us.

But all is not well with NASA’s pride and joy, the Hubble Space Telescope; according to a public statement issued by the American space agency on Tuesday, the observatory’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument is experiencing technical difficulties and has been ordered to shut down until further notice.

An artist's rendition of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Image Credit: NASA

At the time of this writing, NASA isn’t entirely sure what caused the technical difficulties, but a hardware problem appears to be at fault. Diagnosing the failure is also proving to be quite challenging because the space agency is somewhat short-staffed due to the high volume of furloughs concerning the ongoing government shutdown.

Related: What should we do with the Hubble Space Telescope?

Astronauts installed the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope as an upgrade during a spacewalk mission in 2009. It’s just one of four primary science instruments employed by the observatory to survey the universe around us, but it’s responsible for almost half of the space telescope’s scientific operations, which speaks to its significance. 

The Hubble Space Telescope’s remaining three instruments will continue science observations as usual, despite the Wide Field Camera 3’s temporary shutdown. 

While the Wide Field Camera 3 has been temporarily shut down amid technical difficulties, NASA says that the instrument is equipped with several redundancies to deal with situations akin to this one. But before NASA flips any switches, the space agency wishes to learn what caused the anomaly in the first place.

After discerning the root of the problem, NASA engineers will know precisely which redundancies to tap into, and this should get the Hubble Space Telescope back up and running again. On the other hand, NASA hasn’t released an estimated timeframe involving when this might happen.

Worthy of note, it was just under three months ago that the Hubble Space Telescope recovered from an unexplained gyroscopic anomaly. NASA engineers managed to get things up and running again after toggling one of the spacecraft’s backup gyroscopes, but the inconvenience resulted in downtime for NASA’s acclaimed space observatory.

The reality of things is that the Hubble Space Telescope is getting old and has long outlasted its original purpose. NASA hopes to one day have the Hubble Space Telescope operating alongside its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, but a tight budget coupled with unforeseen challenges continues to delay its launch.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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