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September 29, 2008

Hubble servicing mission delayed

Posted: 12:43 PM ET

7PM UPDATE:  NASA just held a teleconference for reporters to discuss the Hubble mission delay.  The basic facts we gave you earlier in the day still hold up.  The part that has failed is called the Control Unit/Science Data Formatter.  There is a replacement part housed at the Goddard Space Flight Center, where Hubble operations are based.  The Hubble team will be putting that part through a series of tests to make sure it is operational and ready to fly, and they say they are confident it will pass.   If all goes as planned, Atlantis could be ready to fly by mid-February.

The Hubble Space Telescope. Source: NASA

In the mean time, the Space Shuttle Program will be making forward plans over the next couple of weeks.  Most likely, they will decide to remove the Hubble payload from Atlantis and eventually roll that shuttle back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Endeavour would then move to launch pad 39A and could be ready to launch as soon as November 14.

4PM UPDATE:    NASA has confirmed the launch will be delayed.   A new launch date has not been announced, but it will likely slip to January or February 2009.

Regarding the malfunctioning computer on the telescope: for an unknown reason, the principal channel on the on-board scientific data download system stopped working over the weekend.  Efforts to troubleshoot the problem have failed.  Later this week, telescope operators will try to activate a redundant downlink channel.  That "B-side" channel has never been switched on in orbit - it was last activated during ground tests in the late 1980's or early 1990.  Even it it works, the computer system will be left without redundancy.  Scientists and engineers will need time to study the problem, and determine whether that system can be replaced during the upcoming mission.  It would also take time for engineers to configure replacement hardware for flight, and for astronauts to train for a removal and replacement task.

Sources tell CNN the space shuttle Atlantis mission to conduct the fifth and final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope will very likely  be delayed until early next year.

An additional technical problem has cropped up with the telescope's on-board scientific data downlink computer. Scientists and engineers will need time to study the problem, and determine whether additional repair tasks will be added to the mission.

Atlantis has been targeted for launch October 14. The next shuttle mission in the queue is a shuttle Endeavour mission to the International Space Station. It is currently targeted for launch on November 16.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Hubble Space Telescope • NASA • Space

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