Hubble servicing mission on NASA’s mind

By Phil Plait | September 24, 2006 9:57 am

With the successful mission of Atlantis under its belt, NASA is looking toward a Hubble servicing mission.

This makes me happy. I have decidedly mixed feelings about these last few Shuttle missions, but if Hubble gets upgraded — and there are two advanced and very cool cameras that have been sitting in a warehouse for years now waiting to be taken up — then that means the waning years of the Shuttle were good for something.


Comments (15)

  1. Troy

    One thing that is astonishing about Hubble, from a nation that worships sports, is that it has become a national icon. While new improvements in adaptive optics and the Webb telescope which will replace the Hubble (and it will be much better placed and will do better astronomy since infrared is where much of the good spectra get pulled into because of the redshift) the Hubble can still do ultraviolet which Webb can’t do and of course ask any astronomer one can never have too many telescopes. Anyway I’m all in favor of the service mission. The only reason not to do the service mission is because NASA is skiddish about another accident, understandable, but I think they actually may be able to do it safely if there is a heat shield inspection upon arrival.

  2. DrFlimmer

    I hope that NASA will do the service-mission to hubble. It is neccessary that there is an orbiting telescope and Webb won´t start before 2013, as I think.

  3. Has anybody ever done a bona fide cost / benefit analysis on the Hubble servicing mission?

    I know a shuttle flight costs nearly $1B; probably more for Hubble servicing since it’ll require having a second shuttle on the pad, ready for a rescue mission.

    Compare this to the cost of launching a full-up replacement. Somewhere, in bonded storage, there’s a flight spare mirror (this was a requirement of the original Hubble program since nobody was sure that the prime vendor could actually produce “the goods”). Meanwhile, at least two of the instruments that could be used on “Hubble II” have already been built (for the servicing mission). So really, the cost of replacing Hubble would come down to five things:

    1) The rest of the instruments
    2) Build another copy of the original structure
    3) Buy updated avionics
    4) Assemble and test the whole mess
    5) Launch it to a comparable science orbit (presumably, via an expendable LV)

    Off-the-cuff, it seems this would yield a price tag comparable to servicing, but you’d wind up with a brand new vehicle (vs. one with some pretty major problems, even after the servicing mission).



  4. Spaceman Spiff

    ….and a really cool spectrograph, called ORIGINS. Hubble hasn’t had spectrographic capabilities (other than NICMOS) since STIS died in August 2004.

  5. Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, or COS. The link in my blog (“two advanced and very cool cameras”) has a description.

  6. Wow… We will have some bunches of higher resolution photo soon!

  7. gopher65

    That’s an interesting point Lorne Ipsum. We saw the EU do something like this with their spare parts for the Mars Express probe. They used the left over crap to build Venus express.

    IIRC anyhow.

    If I were the one running NASA, I’d be inclined to check that out;).

  8. nebularain

    NASA’s continuing Hubble after all!

  9. Spaceman Spiff

    # The Bad Astronomer Says:
    September 24th, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, or COS. The link in my blog (”two advanced and very cool cameras”) has a description.

    COS – yes, that’s what I meant. Thanks.

  10. There was a Hubble Origins Probe proposed to send up the science instruments as part of a separate spacecraft. You can see a PowerPoint presentation about it at:

    It would cost .8-1 billion dollars but would have the advantage of using newer technology and potentially adding more instruments than just the two replacements. On the other hand, a servicing mission extends Hubble’s lifespan significantly, letting those instruments continue to work for many years. Politically, a Hubble servicing mission is probably easier to defend than a new probe, since the former justifies the shuttle to the science community, while the latter leads to the question, “If that’s such a good idea, why didn’t we do it the last three times?”

  11. Spaceman Spiff

    oops. I don’t know where the “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” came from.

  12. icemith

    To Kim, Um, … ‘soon’ …, I don’t think so. Unless you consider years and years, and maybe another after that, like 2013, will we have that opportunity to see real improvements. Well that’s how I interpret it, given a reading of various items in the link provided by Phil. And the latest date I noticed was still in 2005, so if there have been any beneficial updates recently, it did not look too hopeful then.

    I also noticed a problem concerning any service of the Hubble in the future as parts fail and the back-ups themselves fail, the Hubble ‘Swan’ will revert to an ‘Ugly Duck’. Apparently it can only be serviced by the Shuttle as it is configured, both physically via connections etc., and electrically, and that the systems have to match circuits and computer programs.

    How long is the Shuttle itself going to be around? Not too long, I’m afraid.

    But I am still hopeful.


  13. Gary Ansorge

    Lorne and gophur65″ I was under the impression from the original sales blurbs for the Hubble that it was just too big to be launched by any of our expendable launch vehicles. That would preclude doing anything with the Hubble without the shuttle.

    Gary 7

  14. Troy

    I seem to recall there were cost-benefit analysis about Hubble a good number of years ago. If you’ll recall it occured when NASA was considering a robotic repair mission which ultimately would have cost too much. It seems that launching with an expendable would save some money, the issue would be that a new instrument would take years worth of development. I’m guessing it would about break even and there’d be a time delay. New hardware would essentially reset the odometer back to zero. Emotions sometimes trump dollars which in this case is ok by me.

  15. Hey Lorne my thoughts are :

    Why not do both!?

    Build a new Hubble *and* service the existing one too!

    Can’t ever have too many space telescopes as I bet the BA would agree ..

    Better yet set upan assembly line .. 😉


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