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NASA goes for Hubble back-up boot-up

'Wakey wakey, Side B Control Unit'

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NASA will this morning attempt to boot up the Hubble space telescope's redundant Side B Control Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) following the failure last month of its operational Side A counterpart which blinded the 'scope.

The microprocessor-based CU/SDF is critical to Hubble's operation because it receives data from the telescope's five main instruments and formats it for transmission to Earth. The Side B back-up has not been fired up since Hubble went aloft 18 years ago, but if it can be coaxed into life, the flying eye could be back in action by the end of the week.

According to the Guardian, Hubble programme manager Art Whipple said: "It is obviously a possibility that things will not come up [but] there's very little ageing that goes on with an unpowered component in space."

Whatever the outcome, the space shuttle Atlantis mission STS-125 - the final servicing trip to Hubble - has already been knocked back to next year. The 11-day jaunt will involve five space walks designed to extend the 'scope's life by a further five years.

The crew's schedule includes maintenance on the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, as well as equipping Hubble with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph - designed to "observe the light put out by extremely faint, far-away quasars and see how that light changes as it passes through the intervening gas between distant galaxies".

The team will also fit the new Wide Field Camera 3, which at ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths "represents a dramatic improvement in capability over all previous Hubble cameras". ®

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