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Hubble gets a key science instrument back as NASA troubleshoots glitch

The Advanced Camera for Surveys is back in action, though Hubble's other science instruments remain in safe mode.

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Astronauts photographed Hubble during a space shuttle servicing mission in 2009.

NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope is facing down a new technical challenge, the latest in a series of issues that have thrown the aging observatory off its game in recent years. In a bit of good news, the Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument is working again, NASA said Monday. 

Hubble's science instruments first kicked out error codes on Oct. 23 and again on Oct. 25 after NASA attempted a reset. The errors are connected to "synchronization issues with internal spacecraft communications."  Except for the Advanced Camera for Surveys, Hubble's other science instruments remain in safe mode.

Safe mode is designed to keep the telescope stable and allow it to remain powered via its solar panels while its team works through whatever technical problem is bothering it.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys is a key component of Hubble that was installed during a servicing mission in 2002. It can gaze at large areas of the sky and was responsible for bringing us the telescope's iconic Ultra-Deep Field image. "The camera was selected as the first instrument to recover as it faces the fewest complications should a lost message occur," NASA said. 

Troubleshooting is still underway, but NASA said it has seen no additional problems over the last week of working on the issue.

The space observatory experienced a technical issue in mid-June that left it in safe mode for a month as NASA worked to switch it over to backup hardware. The fix worked and Hubble got back to business, but there's no escaping the fact that the telescope is over three decades old.

Hubble is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency. Despite the glitches, the telescope has proven to be remarkably resilient in returning to service. NASA hopes it will continue to operate for years even as the more powerful, next-generation James Webb Space Telescope finally heads into space in December.