The Hubble gets a reprieve...maybe.
August 11, 2004 11:00 AM   Subscribe

They're going to try to save the Hubble telescope after all! Yea!
Nasa chief Sean O'Keefe has asked for a firm mission proposal to be worked up in a year, after which a decision whether to proceed will be made.

As discussed previously in this thread, it looked like NASA didn't want to devote the resourses necessary to maintain the 14 year old telescope.
posted by wsg (9 comments total)
I meant to say "resources." (must remember to run spellcheck...DOH!)
posted by wsg at 11:03 AM on August 11, 2004

Someone has to say it: if they're going to send Dextre up to repair it, can Dee-Dee be far behind?


Otherwise, has there been any news about "Hubble II" and its progress?
posted by kablam at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2004

They'd better.

If you remember, the Hubble was threatened by Bush's election year distraction about going to Mars which has long since dropped off the radar.

To let the Hubble drop for that would be one of the most penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions NASA ever made.

The people setting priorities were surprised to find that the average person considered the Hubble to be a national treasure.

That's right NASA management/Bushco: We LIKE the Hubble. We like the pretty pictures. We want you to save the Hubble.

Now get your ass in gear.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2004

There's so many exciting things we could do besides the hubble.

I'm drawing a blank here but I know there are.
posted by abcde at 11:47 AM on August 11, 2004

I think we should make a whole bunch of them, send them out in different directions, and enjoy. (it really is the only thing nasa does that i like) : >
posted by amberglow at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2004

abcde, like fund the James Webb Space Telescope? It will be far away from the Earth at the L2 point, which while eliminating in-orbit servicability, will mean even better spectacular images as it will be shielded from the sun and be away from the haze of the Earth's atmosphere. Let's focus on the new technology rather than keep the old stuff limping along.
posted by zsazsa at 12:03 PM on August 11, 2004

This has set me to think: I wonder if the Hubble is really in a sorry state? That is, conditions up there play hell with all sorts of equipment, not just electronics and lenses, but even the massive amount of wiring and the hull has probably been seriously damaged by heat, cold and radiation. They mentioned that a door was warped?

I remember space shuttle tests of boards covered with materials that were left outside just to find out how badly they would degrade, and in a short period of time. I also remember that they were impressed at the destructive effects, once they brought these samples home.
posted by kablam at 6:08 PM on August 11, 2004

The breathless kill it, save it threads are somewhat overwrought. Any project such as Hubble, or one of similar scope such as saving Hubble, is going to extend over a long period of time, different administrations, and many budget cycles, and we can't ever say for sure that the technology is going to work, or even get there.

That said, it's cool that they're investigating a mission. There are a great many arguments for keeping Hubble going, and a great many arguments for this particular mission.

First, Hubble can remain a viable observatory even if Webb is a success. Webb will be geared primarily toward low infrared observation, an area in which Hubble has excelled in comparison to ground-based astronomy, but which near-Earth location severely limits. Hubble has optical gear and will remain a better instrument for solar system observations, and the solar system continues to be an interesting place to do science. Hubble is also upgradeable via this or future servicing missions, which is an invaluable advantage.

Hubble is probably a bit the worse for wear after all these years in space, true, but its most vulnerable mechanism is the gyroscopes, for which replacement is now imperative if Hubble is to continue operating. We can do that. It's probable that we could fix or ameliorate other deficiencies of aging, found on this servicing mission, on a future servicing.

There's probably no reason other than costs that Hubble could not continue indefinitely. Space is an unusually harsh environment for mechanical equipment, but it is forgiving as well in ways that ground instruments are not.

Second, there is much to learn in this servicing mission that will be necessary to learn. To begin with, we already have some of the know-how that we need. The Dextre project is in many ways simply a reboot of a design proposed for the International Space Station by the Canadian engineers who developed the Canada Arm, the improved Canada Arm for later shuttle flights, and the souped-up, ultra XXL Canada Arm (with detachable Hand) that is in operation on ISS. Put two of those on a robotic vehicle with a parts bay and you have the Dextre mission.

But that's just the starting point. What we need to learn from servicing Hubble is how to keep a piece of equipment operating in space as long as possible. We already learned how to upgrade it in place, and even salvage a nightmarishly misjudged manufacturing error in its optics. Now we can learn about very long term maintenance. Hubble can continue to teach us important lessons in this area that will serve us well with future spacecraft.

But the really, really cool aspect of a Hubble servicing robot is that it can become a Webb servicing robot. If Dextre works in LEO there's little reason it couldn't also work at L2. Learning how to service Hubble will make Webb a more flexible mission with longer potential. It also has implications for the proposed Terrestrial Planet Finder mission and many other nascent ideas for missions could make better sense if they were less of a one-shot investment.
posted by dhartung at 11:19 PM on August 11, 2004

Anyone else notice the first paragraph of the linked article directly contradicts the post? NASA has hardly decided "to try and save the Hubble telescope after all." O'Keefe has simply firmed up a decision made in June to explore a proposal for a robotic repair mission. The proposal is to be delivered a year from now, "after which a decision whether to proceed will be made." This looks like pure election-season maneuvering.

Sure, we can hope a robotic mission helps NASA improve complex repairs in space, but it's worth noting (again) that the idea of robotic Hubble repair was greeted with skepticism from some astronomers in last month's Science News:

The scientists are skeptical that even state-of-the art robots can deliver batteries and gyroscopes, let alone carry out current plans to install a new infrared camera and ultraviolet spectrograph.

Given the lukewarm institutional commitment, I find it hard to believe anything's going to come of this after November.
posted by mediareport at 5:13 AM on August 12, 2004

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