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September 29, 2008

Hubble servicing mission delayed

Posted: 12:43 PM ET

7PM UPDATE:  NASA just held a teleconference for reporters to discuss the Hubble mission delay.  The basic facts we gave you earlier in the day still hold up.  The part that has failed is called the Control Unit/Science Data Formatter.  There is a replacement part housed at the Goddard Space Flight Center, where Hubble operations are based.  The Hubble team will be putting that part through a series of tests to make sure it is operational and ready to fly, and they say they are confident it will pass.   If all goes as planned, Atlantis could be ready to fly by mid-February.

The Hubble Space Telescope. Source: NASA

In the mean time, the Space Shuttle Program will be making forward plans over the next couple of weeks.  Most likely, they will decide to remove the Hubble payload from Atlantis and eventually roll that shuttle back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.  Endeavour would then move to launch pad 39A and could be ready to launch as soon as November 14.

4PM UPDATE:    NASA has confirmed the launch will be delayed.   A new launch date has not been announced, but it will likely slip to January or February 2009.

Regarding the malfunctioning computer on the telescope: for an unknown reason, the principal channel on the on-board scientific data download system stopped working over the weekend.  Efforts to troubleshoot the problem have failed.  Later this week, telescope operators will try to activate a redundant downlink channel.  That "B-side" channel has never been switched on in orbit - it was last activated during ground tests in the late 1980's or early 1990.  Even it it works, the computer system will be left without redundancy.  Scientists and engineers will need time to study the problem, and determine whether that system can be replaced during the upcoming mission.  It would also take time for engineers to configure replacement hardware for flight, and for astronauts to train for a removal and replacement task.

Sources tell CNN the space shuttle Atlantis mission to conduct the fifth and final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope will very likely  be delayed until early next year.

An additional technical problem has cropped up with the telescope's on-board scientific data downlink computer. Scientists and engineers will need time to study the problem, and determine whether additional repair tasks will be added to the mission.

Atlantis has been targeted for launch October 14. The next shuttle mission in the queue is a shuttle Endeavour mission to the International Space Station. It is currently targeted for launch on November 16.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Hubble Space Telescope • NASA • Space

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Franko   September 29th, 2008 3:12 pm ET

Earth based adaptive optics, resolution now surpassing Hubble.
Interesting will be James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

Visible light a little less than 1 micron wavelength.
The next telescope will be infrared – all the way out to 28 micron wavelength

Larian LeQuella   September 29th, 2008 3:20 pm ET

Let's hope "Side B", as NASA calls it, powers up! It's been inactive since launch, so if it does power up, those engineers deserve a bonus check.

As for other telescopes, the one I am most interested in is the terrestrial planet finder. That will be some exciting astronomy!

Wisdom   September 29th, 2008 6:00 pm ET

I guess until it's fixed we should call it Hobble?

Derek   September 29th, 2008 6:28 pm ET

Larian: TPF has been delayed indefinitely and may never be launched. The precusor to that mission, the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) has been delayed as well with MAYBE a launch date in 2015. We might not see TPF until 2020s at least. We might not even see TPF at all in its current form. Perhaps the European "Darwin" mission will have better luck?

Franko   September 29th, 2008 11:53 pm ET

Before we blast the Aliens we have to spy them
Giant phase array telescope, orbiting a little beyond Neptune

To nearest star = 9.46 e5 m/light year * 4.2 light year ~ 4 e16 m
Diameter of Neptune orbit = 1 e13 m
1,000 ghz (1 Thz) wavelength 3 e-4 m
x/4 e16 = 1.22*( 3 e-4/1 e13 ) =~ 1.5 meter resolution

If we could do 1 micron, near infrared, (red is 0.7 micron),
300 Thz, ~ 5 mm resolution.

MikeK   September 30th, 2008 10:28 am ET


I have an alternative- use the shuttle to retrieve Hubbe, do a thorough diagnostic / repair / refit on the ground. Add a roboti thrust module that could bring Hubble to ISS for fture repairs, and return Hubble to orbit on the final flight of the Space Shuttle.

JD   September 30th, 2008 11:17 am ET

What a close call! Imagine the ramifications if we had repaired the Hubble only to have it break again the next day.

TJ   September 30th, 2008 12:01 pm ET

What will this delay do to the Ares 1-x launch?

Science News 9/30/08 « Weatherdem’s Weblog   September 30th, 2008 12:32 pm ET

[...] A critical component of the Hubble has failed.  The Control Unit/Science Data Formatter is no longer working, meaning data can't be sent to the ground.  A backup version is on-board, but scientists need to see if it can be brought online.  Another backup is located at the Hubble operations center.  Engineers will see if it can be made flight ready and if the system can be replaced in-flight.  Astronauts scheduled for the original Hubble repair mission will likely have to do some additional training also.  All this means the Hubble repair mission is likely to be delayed until January or February of next year.  The next International Space Station construction mission would then be moved up to mid-November. [...]

John Dfwembalmer   October 1st, 2008 5:09 pm ET

I like the idea of loading the Hubble on the Shuttle, bringing it home and repairing it and relaunching it via the space shuttle, or maybe even the new platform. If it is un-repairable at a reasonable cost, I believe it should have a home in the Smithsonian Museum of Flight, instead of incinerating in the atmosphere! What a teaching tool, and piece of history!

John Dfwembalmer   October 1st, 2008 5:12 pm ET

Additionally, what a great platform for research of the long term effects of space exposure to electronic equipment!

Franko   October 2nd, 2008 1:58 am ET

Have to move on, Palomar ( 5-meter) is easy to maintain, Hubble (2.4 m) is not
"The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. Launch is planned for 2013."

Large interferometers, systhesizing large apperture are the near future.

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