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Hubble going blind with old age

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The main camera on the Hubble Space Telescope has broken down, leaving ground-based engineers with a puzzle on their hands. As of Sunday, NASA was still not sure what was wrong with the telescope.

The camera, which was installed in the last service mission in 2002, went offline on Monday last week. The Advanced Camera for Surveys has gone into safe mode before, but not for such a long period.

NASA engineers suspect the telescope has a problem with its low-voltage power supply interface, somewhere between the batteries and the camera. It could also be that a cosmic event damaged the memory, according to reports.

Ed Campion, a NASA spokesman at the Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Associated Press: "Both possibilities are things that can be resolved here on the ground."

If it is the power supply, engineers should be able to switch over to back up systems, and this could happen as early as Friday June 30.

Hubble's science programs should not be too badly affected. Bruce Margon, STScI's Associate Director for Science told Space.com: "We just have to rush around a bit to change the schedule."

This problem, however, is far from the biggest obstacle to Hubble's continued operation. The telescope has not been serviced since 2002, because of Shuttle being grounded after the loss of Columbia.

The gap in its service history means it badly needs new batteries, and its gyroscopes are in need of repair. These fixes would extend the life of the 'scope to 2013. Without them, the power supply will fail by 2008 and the 'scope will be crashed into the sea. ®

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