Hubble Space Telescope Suffers Wide Field Camera 3 Anomaly

Hubble Space Telescope (Credit: NASA)

At 17:23 UTC on Jan. 8, the Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope suspended operations due to a hardware problem. Hubble will continue to perform science observations with its other three active instruments, while the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly is investigated. Wide Field Camera 3, installed during Servicing Mission 4 in 2009, is equipped with redundant electronics should they be needed to recover the instrument.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    This looks like a great job for either a Cygnus or the H-II transfer vehicle. A decision will have to be made soon. If science capability is lost, that might spark the decision to deorbit while the spacecraft is still under positive control.

  • windbourne

    They would only lose 1 out of 4 instruments.
    Why would they have to deorbit this?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It’s my understanding that they’re down to a minimal set of gyros. They’ll need time to modify some sort of spacecraft that can act as a tug to provide a controlled reentry. I’m assuming they can see the gyros begin to decay and will have enough time to put out a RFQ, then competitively assign a contractor, pay for development, test, and be ready for flight, before they lose an axis of stability. Hubble’s solar panel arrangement will have the effect of spinning the observatory up once orientation control is lost making a controlled reentry impossible. Ideally at some point as the observatory loses more functionality, the long process of contracting a tug to bring it down starts before the option is lost.

  • savuporo

    Long process of contracting a tug is always only thought of when the manure is about to hit the impeller.

    In a sane world, we would have this capability on standby for next available rocket.

  • windbourne

    In fact, I am pushing several of the space companies in Colorado to consider the idea of doing 2-3 units on med to large sats. The gyros are the most likely to go out, but you can run out of fuel as well. If we build standardized tugs for sats, with docking, it would enable many payload based companies to start up for a fraction of the costs, and make it easy to save sats like Hubble.

  • windbourne

    IIRC, They attached a berthing port/grapling point on the hubble.
    I wonder if they can attach a tug with gyros, etc and keep it going?

  • Lee

    Hubble, Curiosity, and all these other missions that are years beyond their expected lifetime need to die to free up money for new missions. This coming from a professional astronomer.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’ll bet it’s an option. The problem would be software between the two platforms and how to interface them. If you could not interface them, you’d have to shut down all the positioning systems on the observatory while still using the instruments. Meanwhile you’d have to control the attached life extension unit. If SX is really going to fly a starship to orbit in the next two years, maybe they’ll go grab it and bring it down, stability and payload bay permitting.

  • Paul451

    The cost of operating an existing mission is a tiny fraction of the cost of developing a new spacecraft.

    The cumulative budget for JWST is around $9b. Of which just a couple of hundred $million has been budgeted for its first four years of ops.

    It’s that $9 billion that killed new opportunities, not the fraction of that needed once it’s actually flying. Even a more modest $2-3b program, the development costs would swallow up the money saved from killing HST without noticing it going down.

    Cut the development cost of these programs, and you open up funding for more of them. Cut their operating life and you merely end up with fewer instruments.

  • Lee

    You don’t understand the “wedge” problem. NASA’s budget is essentially flat. As missions continue past their intended lifetime, they continue to consume funds. Hubble is about $100M/year. Add up all the missions that are WAY past their intended lifetimes, and you’re talking about a significant amount of the yearly budget. NASA has been talking about this problem at AAS meetings since at least the mid-90s.

    In a world where the annual operating costs didn’t count against the overall budget, you would be right. However, that is not the world we live in.

    Also, I agree that JWST is a huge money sink and a big problem. But the wedge problem existed way before JWST was even thought of. IUE was the mission that wouldn’t die, and arguably the beginning of the wedge problem. NASA allowed it to continue, setting a precedent. Almost every mission since then has exceeded it’s life by many times. The wedge problem is real, and cumulative.

  • duheagle

    That last is indeed a neat thought. Just the sort of stunt Elon would enjoy pulling off if only to see all the various exploding heads.

  • duheagle

    These ongoing missions aren’t “wedges,” they’re planks. NASA is, in essence, saying “I can’t afford to feed all the pets I’ve already got but I’m gong to spend ever larger fortunes acquiring each new one anyway.” That makes NASA a crazy cat lady, not a rational steward of such a large piece of the nation’s scientific expenditure.

  • Paul451

    NASA’s flat budget is my point. You are not going to increase the number of missions by cancelling old ones. The cost of development of a mission eclipses the cost of operations for that mission. Cancelling a dozen of the latter might free up funding for the development of one new mission, but how exactly is that going to work long-term? Minus-12 plus-1 can only tend towards zero.

    The only, only way NASA can increase the number and variety of missions is to reduce the cost of new missions. Something the agency, SMD, JPL and the leading scientists from associated universities, and the leading contractors (at least the managers from those contractors) have shown they are mentally unable to even seriously contemplate. I’ve talked to people involved in past missions, who understand this issue, and they talk of their colleagues staring blankly when the idea is raised as if they can’t even comprehend what is being said. Others regurgitate unquestioned assertions and circular reasoning.

    There’s a culture within NASA that prevents change. Prevents even understanding the need for change. Yet everyone knows that what is done now is unsustainable.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You mentioned it last month or in Nov I believe. It was a good idea, but not mine.