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Hubble Telescope Shuts Down, Loses Most of Main Camera


The Hubble Space Telescope is temporarily idle because of power supply problems. The U.S. space agency NASA says the orbiting observatory's main camera may not regain full function, but other instruments are expected to resume their searches in a few days. VOA's David McAlary reports.

NASA says Hubble's problem is with the power supply to the Advanced Camera for Surveys, or ACS, an instrument installed by space shuttle astronauts in 2002. It greatly expanded the telescope's visual reach into the universe and has taken the sharpest pictures of the birth of galaxies.

The ACS's power supply failed on Saturday, shutting the instrument off. At the same time, the observatory entered a protective mode, automatically turning off the other instruments, too.

NASA engineers turned Hubble on Sunday, but the space agency says two of the three functions of the ACS instrument may never be restored. As a result, it has lost its unique ability to take extremely deep views of the universe to detect the most distant and oldest objects. It also no longer can peer into the inner reaches of other galaxies or search neighboring stars for planets or planets being formed.

The camera was designed to work for five years, a time period that would have been up in only two months. But Hubble manager Preston Burch says this is still a big loss because the instrument was in high demand by astronomers. "The ACS instrument comprises a large percentage of the total science that is done on Hubble. However, there is a lot great science that can be done with the other instruments. So we are in a replanning mode and we will probably get back 'on the air' later in the week," he said.

Burch says the space agency hopes to get the third channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys working by the end of February. That function allows Hubble to detect ultraviolet wavelengths to see things that do not emit visible light.

Space shuttle astronauts are scheduled to upgrade Hubble for the fifth and last time around May or June of next year. They will install other new instruments and renew its batteries and the gyroscopes that stabilize it in orbit. The mission is expected to extend Hubble's life. Otherwise, it would probably fail by 2010.

Burch says he does not believe the current Hubble problem will affect the servicing mission. "Certainly one of the things we will do is we will examine this failure and see if there are any implications to new science instruments that we are bringing up. I don't know, however, that we will be able to get sufficient information to be able to make any judgment about that," he said.

So Burch says the Hubble servicing mission will take place without any changes in plan.