The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC-3) on the Hubble Space Telescope has stopped functioning due to an unspecified hardware problem. According to NASA, the camera stopped operations at 17:23 Universal Coodinated Time on 8th January.
The space agency says WFC-3 is equipped with backup electronics that could be called into action to recover the instrument, if required.
An investigation into the instrument failure is currently underway, although NASA engineers are unlikely to immediately address the problem due to the government shutdown. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland is currently closed, and only a few employees are allowed to work in the Centre until the government shutdown ends.
Despite the anomaly in WFC 3, Hubble is still observing the universe with three other active instruments on board.
Hubble's WFC-3 was installed in 2009 by spacewalking shuttle astronauts during Servicing Mission 4 (SM4). It can take images in visible light, ultraviolet, and near infrared. The high-resolution images captured by WFC-3 has helped scientists discover some new objects in our Solar System, tiny moons around Pluto, a 14th moon around Neptune, and several galaxies located much far away in the universe.
Hubble was launched in 1990 and has received several upgrades in the past 28 years. During the last servicing mission in 2009, now-malfunctioning WFC-3 was installed. The telescope also received many other upgrades during this mission.
All servicing missions for Hubble have been completed by NASA's space shuttles. Since the cancellation of the American shuttle programme, no mission has been sent to repair the Hubble.
Lack of proper maintenance in the past 10 years has taken its toll on Hubble, which is experiencing a variety of technical issues. In October last year, problems with gyroscopes forced the telescope to remain out of business for about three weeks. There are six gyroscopes on Hubble, and three have already broken down over the past years.
In 2004, the power system of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph failed, leaving the instrument inoperable. It was later was fixed during SM4 in 2009.
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