NASA

Bye-bye Hubble?

Space News reported Friday afternoon that NASA plans to effectively kill a proposed Hubble robotic mission by not including any funding for it in its proposed FY2006 budget. Instead, NASA plans to request funding to develop a module that can attach to the spacecraft robotically to deorbit the spacecraft at the end of its life. As the article notes, you can be sure this decision will not go over well with many members of Congress, particularly those who opposed NASA’s announcement a year ago to cancel the SM4 shuttle servicing mission…

9 comments to Bye-bye Hubble?

  • $300M is a lot to pay for a Smithsonian exhibit afterall. The only _rational_ reason to spend that kind of money would be the space robotics advances that would come out of it.

    Automated rendezvous and docking should’ve been done decades ago by the US, and it sounds like that’ll still be needed for the deorbit module. Perhaps good things will come of this whichever way the politics turns out.

  • melissa

    i’m confused. “$300m for a Smithsonian exhibit” Hubble does a lot more for science than educate the public in museum exhibits. http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/ is one place to learn more about the science, discoveries, and advancement hubble has allowed us to make. it’s a shame to spend almost as much money to take Hubble out of service as to keep it in service.

  • If they’re going to spend that kind of money, they should raise Hubble to a permanent storage orbit, not lower it. That would preserve it, and add to the infrastructure available on orbit. I think it likely that some future project could use the mirror, if nothing else.

    This should become standard policy for the future. NASA should calculate the most stable possible orbit reachable for no more delta-V than deorbit requires (if that is possible), and store all large facilities like Space Station modules and large space telescopes in that orbit.

    Maybe it will prove to be nothing but junk. But, I’d bet money such a junk pile already “half way to anywhere” will prove valuable in the future, especially if terrestrial launch costs remain fairly high.

    – Donald

  • TORO

    By the time Hubble got fixed, if it got fixed, ground-based telescopes to be built and completed by then at a fraction of the cost are projected to have the same or better resolution than Hubble. And what if the Hubble fix fails, or something else needs repair shortly thereafter? Like the shuttle, we pour billions into the lemons of today, the marvels of yesterday, instead of “focusing” upon vehicles and instruments of the future. Marvels for their time, but now yesterday’s trash to put out.

  • >By the time Hubble got fixed, if it got fixed, ground-based telescopes to be built and completed by then at a fraction of the cost are projected to have the same or better resolution than Hubble. And what if the Hubble fix fails, or something else needs repair shortly thereafter? Like the shuttle, we pour billions into the lemons of today, the marvels of yesterday, instead of “focusing” upon vehicles and instruments of the future. Marvels for their time, but now yesterday’s trash to put out.

  • [By the time Hubble got fixed, if it got fixed, ground-based telescopes to be built and completed by then at a fraction of the cost are projected to have the same or better resolution than Hubble.]

    You’re correct that under certain circumstances, adaptive optics will soon enable ground based telescopes to produce results comparable to Hubble. The problem, however, isn’t resolution, but breadth of sky coverage. In order to operate properly, adaptive optical systems require a fairly bright guide star near the line of observation in order to calibrate the requisite adjustments. Such guide stars are available for only a small fraction of the night sky.

    [ And what if the Hubble fix fails, or something else needs repair shortly thereafter? Like the shuttle, we pour billions into the lemons of today, the marvels of yesterday, instead of "focusing" upon vehicles and instruments of the future. Marvels for their time, but now yesterday's trash to put out.]

    It’s a question of risk and reward. We know that the shuttle has successfully repaired/upgraded Hubble more than once. The risk of the repair operation itself is relatively small. As to the future investment issue, it’s a matter of commitment. We haven’t even seen significant commitment to desperately needed human transport to orbit.

  • Brad

    Seems to me the cost of roboticly parking Hubble would be no greater than the cost of de-orbiting Hubble. And America would gain valuable orbital tug development into the bargain.

  • Paul Dietz

    Hubble has a number of other advantages over ground scopes, even ones with adaptive optics: (1) it has a much darker background (no airglow), (2) it can operate farther into the UV (no ozone layer), (3) it can remain on a given patch of sky for a much longer time. Of course, the terestrial scope is a much bigger light bucket, so visible light spectroscopy is often best done on the ground.

    I am skeptical of a plan to spend nine digits to just deorbit the thing. The cost/benefit ratio (given a 1 in 700 chance of killing anyone on an uncontrolled reentry) is far too high.

  • Doug Lassiter

    HST has been an enormously valuable tool for astronomical research, and an iconic public relations tool for NASA. But technologically it’s past it’s prime, and large investment in it to hopefully achieve a few more years of operation is a dead-end effort at best.

    BTW, we certainly don’t need a massive 2.4m chunk of glass in a parking orbit. Modern mirror substrates achieve the same optical performance with much lower mass, allowing simplified pointing, thermal, and control systems. It is commonly accepted that a new UV/optical telescope of the same size, lower risk, and with better performance could be put up for much less than the cost of a human or robotic servicing mission to HST.

    Time to move on. And there are many remarkable mission concepts offering new research opportunities that are ready to start. The real fear is that congressional pressure to service HST will result in an unfunded mandate, such that these exciting new missions will get killed in order to service that mandate.