Updated: 4:47pm EST
NASA’s venerable Hubble Space Telescope, the oldest observatory in operation in the world, suffered its second failure of a major component in just over a year Thursday, NASA officials said.
Shortly after 6:00 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT), shuttle Atlantis made a safe landing here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, delivering the 150-ton Hubble telescope to its new home on the International Space Station. But while the shuttle lifted off on schedule on Thursday morning at 8:37 a.m. EDT (1237 GMT), a problem cropped up with the spacecraft about six hours into the flight.
Before landing, NASA technicians worked for hours to repair Hubble’s telemetry link to the shuttle, which transmitted data to cameras, satellite sensors and the spacecraft’s fuel cell power supply. Mission managers did not say what type of problem cropped up, but stressed that it was not related to what occurred during its December 2009 orbiter servicing mission.
Commanded by veteran astronaut Scott Altman, Atlantis’ 13-day mission to deliver the Hubble telescope to the space station marked the 29th and final space shuttle flight before NASA’s shuttle fleet is retired later this year.
During that servicing mission in December 2009, the telescope’s primary mirror was replaced and a faulty gyroscope fixed.
The troubleshooting Thursday night yielded no results, mission managers said. Discovery’s 2007 servicing mission was the most recent mission with no major problems.
At the same time in December, the telescope lost its primary light detectors, forcing some processing to be done on the ground and impacting its science capability. NASA’s last space shuttle mission in 2009 extended Hubble’s life by five years, and NASA says the telescope should live through 2020.
Earlier Thursday, in a post on Twitter, NASA astronomer Dave Grinspoon wrote that its Hubble imaging team is working to make up for the lost sensor data from Wednesday’s spacewalk.
“Hubble team is taking data from ACS [Aperture Circuits] to make up for planned failed instrument delivery [Wednesday],” Grinspoon tweeted. “Will do so soon.”
Hubble’s upcoming return to science operations was delayed last month, when Hubble’s main power module shut down during installation. A glitch with the facility’s power amplifier forced NASA to turn off the telescope’s main science instruments during a spacewalk to replace the satellite’s gyroscopes.
On Thursday, a pair of spacewalking astronauts completed the gyroscope installation and docking procedure, but Hubble experienced further problems and went into safe mode.
During the course of Thursday’s mission, astronaut Mike Massimino and European Space Agency astronaut Daniel Burbank installed two new gyroscopes for Hubble. Discovery’s last mission installed two new gyroscopes for Hubble in 2009.
NASA currently plans to retire its space shuttle fleet later this year with the last three flights to the International Space Station. The space agency has one last planned mission to shuttle astronauts to the station, but it is not yet known if Atlantis and its STS-135 crew will make it.
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