NASA wrestles with more Hubble problems

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Fri Oct 17, 2008 6:25pm EDT

1 of 3. Two engineers in the Space Telescope Operations Control Center sit at consoles during the switch of the Hubble Space Telescope's hardware modules, October 15, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/NASA

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - A new glitch has shut down the Hubble Space Telescope, dashing NASA's hopes of a speedy recovery from an earlier computer breakdown, officials said on Friday.

"The soonest that we would be back doing full science would be late next week," Art Whipple, Hubble manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told reporters during a conference call on Friday.

The space telescope, which orbits about 300 miles above Earth, has changed scientists' understanding of the origin, evolution and contents of the universe and delivered unprecedented images of distant galaxies and celestial phenomena.

A computer needed to relay science data to Earth failed three weeks ago, prompting NASA to delay a long-awaited space shuttle servicing mission scheduled for October 14 so that new gear could be prepared to fly. The flight has been rescheduled for February.

On Thursday, engineers successfully switched the observatory over to a backup computer and three instruments had reactivated when the first of two new glitches surfaced. The first involved a power unit on one of Hubble's cameras and the second was a problem with another computer system used by the science instruments.

"It's not known if these two events are related," Whipple said. "At this point we are fairly certain it was not a configuration or a commanding error."

Officials said it was too early to say if more work will be needed when astronauts arrive at the observatory for its fifth and final servicing mission.

"If we did not have the servicing mission, we would have less options to us available for recovery but we never take that for granted," Whipple said.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Chris Wilson)

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