Hubble Telescope Power Supply Tester On EBay

Got $75K spare? Then this is the eBay deal for you! [jvanorsdal] pointed us to this eBay bargain: the VPI Vehicle Power Interface Rack & Console Hubble Space Telescope. This was the actual system used to test the power systems of the Hubble Space Telescope before it was launched, so it’s a genuine piece of space history.

For the price you get two, yes two CRT displays, six HP power supplies and a huge amount of hand-wired history. Even if you aren’t going to bid, it is worth taking a look at the insides of this thing, as it is all hand-soldered and the cable routing is a thing of beauty. I have absolutely no use for this, but I totally want it for my living room.

There are a few gotchas, though. Because it is NASA space hardware, you can’t export it to places like Iran, and the shipping cost for the US is a cool $1.5K. Considering the size of the thing, that is not so bad, perhaps: it is built into a three rack metal cabinet with built-in wheels that measures over 7 feet long and weighs over 800 lbs.

Interested? It is on sale for $75k, and there is a handy buy it now button on the site.

We all love space history here at Hackaday. Back in 2019, our own [Tom Nardi] got to spend an evening with the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

38 thoughts on “Hubble Telescope Power Supply Tester On EBay

  1. It looks like the console runs on a NorthStar CP/M machine as well. I’m surprised that this didn’t go to a museum instead of being sold off on eBay, but hopefully whoever buys it will see that it gets displayed rather than dismantled.

          1. Look at the labels on some of the other chassis: “Battery Load” “Vehicle Battery Control And Monitor” “Telemetry and Command”. There’s a lot more going on there than 6 precision power supplies.

            Nowadays they could condense those 6 HP 6612s down into 2x 1U Keysight N6700 mainframes if they didn’t mind switching supplies, and probably do the job of the Northstars and the custom switching and control hardware in a single PXI crate and a box full of relays.

        1. Amps and watts fit in smaller packages now too. If someone *really* wanted to, I’m sure they could make a briefcase sized 100KW programmable dummy load, not counting external cooling water if you wanted to run for more than a minute.

          Even power supplies are far smaller now. Maybe not iPhone sized, but definitely smaller.

          In any case this thing is of historical interest more than practical, so size is irrelevant. There’s gotta be a museum somewhere with space for it!

      1. IIRC NASA didn’t do the optics testing. The optics were based on the “camera” in the Keyhole surveillance satellites, and manufacture by, I think, Eastman Kodak. They didn’t do the test properly, and NASA agreed to believe their tests, because it would save $1M or so! Congress were complaining about the budget at the time. In the end it cost an extra shuttle flight and a lot more than $1M. This is the aerospace equivalent of “measure twice (or thrice) and cut once”. Which they didn’t do.

        1. I read that the company which ground the mirror decided they could rely on a single instrument to test the progress of the grinding. Unfortunately that single instrument had something wrong with it. One article I read those many years ago said a tiny chip of paint was found jammed between two parts.

          That one instrument said all is to specification every time so the assumption was made that the CNC grinding equipment was shaping it properly, but it turned out a wee bit too flat.

          The usual process of testing the shaping of a large telescope mirror is to use two instruments. If they don’t agree then there’s something wrong with one, or possibly both. Then the instruments get tested and recalibrated. Doing every shaping test twice would have taken more time, and Hubble was running over time and budget pretty much from the day the project began.

          Even if they had decided to just to ONE test with a second instrument at a late stage in the grinding it could have been launched with everything properly functioning. Could have made a decision to finish the mirror, measure the error, then send specifications to all the instrument manufacturers so they could have replacements made for their optics. Or they could have fixed the bad instrument and corrected the mirror, along with finishing the grinding using the proper testing method.

          NASA could have insisted on doing their own test on the finished mirror, just to make sure they were getting what they paid for. Ohhh, man would there have been some expensive egg on face after such an event. Could have chalked up fixing the optics on all the instruments to just another one of those delays and never told the public about the screwup for 10, 15 years or so.

    1. The keyboards are nicer than you might think. Orange keys is the least of the niceties. The interface is 5 volts, 8 bit parallel with strobe. The keyboard was made by Cherry. The same guys who did the IBM PC MX cherry keyboards. Unfortunately this keyboard is just spring return. Not the bucky spring type. The enclosure is a (2) steel plates double U. It’s very heavy and I am sure the fuzzy surface paint is coming off by now.

    1. I don’t think anybody waited. According to the sticker, nobody cared anymore what would happen with it after the year 2001. And in fact, for 19 years, absolutely nobody gave a shit about it :). Until now.

      What I really like, is how clean it still is. I mean, on the phot’s, I see a little gunk here and there. But it’s nothing compared to the gunk on my computers. It was clearly used, but not too much.

      But most likely, NASA’s storage rooms are very, very dust-free. :)

    2. There were plans to possibly return the HST to Earth, refurbish it, and re-launch it to space. Remember, before the 1986 Challenger accident, shuttle flights were predicted to become much cheaper and more plentiful than they ended up being.

      If they had done a HST refurbishment, they would have needed the power supply. The storage cost was a lot cheaper than the cost of creating a new one. Read the sticker pictured on the eBay listing.

      1. maybe they NASA should have kept it. Space X is going to do a test launch of the Starship so why not have it recover the HST? I know it may not be possible or practical but it would have been a nice little demo and the HST could then have been refurbished and relaunched or put in the NASM as intended.

  2. The whole thing smells fishy. The seller has an 87.5% rating, the worst I’ve seen for someone with 200 transactions, and it looks like it is coming from a junk place or warehouse with unprofessional sellers since they can’t spell possessive “its” right. Based on the transactions, it must be a NASA-approved liquidator, though. They should be using a government auction website instead, anyway.

    1. 10+ years ago when we did ebay sales of salvage electronics, we A/B tested a few things with “here’s all we know about it, manuals, etc” listings, vs. “it appears to run on electricity” descriptions. The latter won out huge… That was one of the reasons we stopped doing ebay sales.

  3. (2) ADDS keyboards.
    Little more than that. It’s connected to Din rack mount terminal unit(s) located behind the Ball monitors. The keyboard is not the only part. I never thought I would see functional 1980’s equipment from one of my old work places. ADDS did not sell many of those variants. Funny they ended up with a NASA contractor.

    From the looks of the keyboard it’s the 980 which was a 80×25 character only RS-232C terminal. The circuit boards are all 74TTL series chips. At least 80% are never to be found again parts. That’s why I was surprised.

    1. If you look at the bottom right of the rack with the keyboards and Ball monitors, there are two ADDS units rackmounted on the bottom right, these are probably the terminals in rackmount form factor. I am making a wild guess that the Northstar microcomputer on the bottom left is interfaced to these terminals.

  4. I don’t need this thing (nor i have space for it and of course not the $$$), but i wouldn’t mind one of these HP 6012B PSU. 60V 50A 1200W is quite a beast. There are 6 of them according to the listing. A quick search gives prices around 700-1000$ qty 1 refurbished.

  5. I think his eBay ask is at least 1 if not 2 decimal places too far to the right. It is just ground test racks. In itself not really of any historical interest. You never know someone might over pay for scrap.

  6. Have to love the last sentence. Sort of restricts your potential customers base when they have to be military personnel.

    Quote: The Purchaser warrants and covenants that the item being subject to this article
    will be directly or indirectly used or disposed of for military use.

  7. I have seen this thing before somewhere. I don’t remember if it was on ebay, or on govplanet, or elsewhere. My guess is the seller got it for next to nothing or for scrap and is trying to see how much he can get for it.

  8. Remember just a few years ago when NASA was in the news for suing people and taking back things they had previously given away and/or sold?

    Sorry NASA but I think you have lost your privilege to sell things. I sure wouldn’t want to spend significant money on something like this only to later be forced to return it!

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