The primary camera on the Hubble Space Telescope has failed, and is likely to be only partially restored, according to NASA. Although other cameras are on the Hubble, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) was the one most depended on by scientists.
NASA has noted that it might be able to restore part of its operational ability by mid-February, and that it expects to regain only about 30 percent of its functionality.
Installed in March 2002 during a routine service mission, the camera was a boon for the Hubble, and ended up providing the clearest pictures ever taken of galaxy formation.
The camera actually consists of three electronic cameras, filters, and dispersers that detect a range of light, from ultraviolet to near infrared. It was developed jointly by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Johns Hopkins University, Ball Aerospace, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The camera shut down on the morning of January 27, and was the third outage in less than a year for the equipment. NASA believes that the cause is a failed backup power supply. The instrument had been operating on its redundant supply since June 30, following a malfunction in its primary power source.
Investigators have noted that debris probably got caught in a switch, which caused a subsequent voltage drop that resulted in a shutdown by the instrument's safety functions.
Although NASA is planning repairs, the agency also has stated that the ACS was designed to work for about five years, the typical lifespan of such systems. Because the ACS is just a few months shy of its five-year birthday, the current issues were not completely unexpected.
While researchers note that the camera's breakdown is a great loss, NASA could get back on track when it sends astronauts to the Hubble for much-needed revamps and repairs next year. The astronauts are expected to upgrade the telescope with new instruments designed to broaden the capabilities of the current equipment.
Until then, an Anomaly Review Board at the agency will investigate the camera problems. Investigation and assessment findings are scheduled to be presented soon. "It is too early to know what influences the ACS anomaly may have on Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission-4 planning," said Preston Burch, associate director and program manager for the Hubble Space Telescope, in a statement.
"It is important that the review board conduct a thorough investigation that will allow us to determine if there are any changes needed in the new instruments that will be installed on the upcoming servicing mission so that we can be sure of maximizing the telescope's scientific output," Burch added.