The Fix is In
Space is a very harsh environment. It's especially harsh for space observatories, which are subjected to extreme temperature changes and swarms of dangerous subatomic charged particles that play havoc with delicate electronics and instrumentation. Nevertheless, state-of-the art facilities like the Chandra X-ray Observatory have operated in this harsh environment successfully for decades. But these observations have sometimes required extraordinary efforts by engineers and scientists on the ground to respond to technological emergencies. In February 2022, Chandra's High Resolution Camera suffered an electronic "anomaly" which left the HRC without enough power to perform observations. The HRC, as its name implies, provides the highest resolution X-ray images of any X-ray telescope that has ever flown in space (and, perhaps, higher resolution than any instrument that will fly in the future), so the loss of the HRC was a tremendous blow for high-energy astrophysics. Troubleshooting issues like this is very difficult and must be done remotely by engineers on the ground. After about a year of hard analysis, the HRC was recovered to full science operations on April 10, 2023 by switching to a redundant set of electronics. These redundant electronics themselved suffered an anomaly in 2020 that needed to be understood before the switchover could be accomplished. The image above is one of the first images obtained by the recovered HRC, a calibration image of a supernova remnant. It is believed that these anomalies are at least partially due to overheating in one electronics component, so HRC observations have been adjusted to keep things cool.
Published: November 27, 2023
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 04-Dec-2023 13:18:14 EST