Earlier this year a simple indicator LED brought the Keck 1 telescope, a 370 tons mass, to a halting stop. How exactly did an LED do this? Simple: it did nothing.
As it so happens, [Andrew Cooper] was just about the leave the summit of Mauna Kea (in Hawaii) when his radio instructed him otherwise: there was an issue. Upon returning, [Andrew] was met by a room of scientists and summit supervisors. “Yeah, this was not good, why are they all looking at me? Oh, h%#*!” The rotor wasn’t moving the telescope, and “no rotator equals no science data.” After being briefed on the problem, [Andrew] got to work. Was it a mechanical issue? No: manual mode worked quite fine, also indicating that the amplifiers and limit switches are functional as well.
Jumping from chip to chip, [Andrew] came across an odd voltage: 9.36V. In the CMOS [Andrew] was investigating, this voltage should have High (15V) or Low (0v) and nowhere in between. Judging by the 9.36V [Andrew] decided to replace the driving IC. One DS3632 later, nothing had changed. Well, maybe is one of the loads pulling the line low? With only two choices, [Andrew] eliminated that possibility quickly. Likely feeling as if he was running out of proverbial rope, [Andrew] remembered something important: “the DS3236 driving this circuit is an open collector output, it needs a pull-up to go high.”
Reviewing the schematic, [Andrew] identified the DS3236’s pull-up: an LED and its current limiting resistor. While the carbon composition resistor was “armageddon proof,” [Andrew] was suspicious of the LED. “Nick, can you get me a 5k resistor from the lab?” Hold the resistor on the pins of the chip and the amplifiers immediately enabled.
[Andrew] summarizes things quite well: “yes… One of the world’s largest telescopes, 370 tons of steel and glass, was brought to a halt because of a bad indicator LED”. It stopped things by doing nothing, or rather, by not turning on.
We love it when we get troubleshooting stories, and if you share our interest in problem-solving, check out this broken power supply troubleshooting or learn what could go wrong with I2C.
Edit: Keck 1 is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world. Thanks to [Josh] for noticing our error.