back to article Hubble hits 25th anniversary IN SPAAACE – time for telescope to come home

On 24 April, 1990, the space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida carrying a very special cargo: 24,490lbs (11,110kg) of advanced optics, electronics, and antennas that made up the Hubble Space Telescope. The 'scope has revolutionised our understanding of the universe, in part thanks to five …

  1. DropBear

    "This huge device will be parked 1.5 million kilometers from Earth – so no servicing missions will be possible"

    Considering that's about four times as far as the moon, I'm not surprised. I get eyelid twitch just thinking about it...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      It's a much nicer neighbourhood - Hubble has some huge limitations because of the need to put it somewhere that the Shuttle could get to.

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      However, servicing WILL be possible, and it's been fitted with a docking device to make sure it can be done safely. The problem though is that Hubble was designed to have units removed and replaced in orbit, but the James Webb, no, so it would be difficult.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Seems a bit short sighted

        Just because we don't have a cost effective way for astronauts to service the JW now, doesn't mean there won't be a way a couple decades down the road. Presumably it is being designed for a long service life, and technology will advance during that time. Would have been nice if it could take advantage of a mid life kicker...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >> removed one of the scientific instruments and installed the corrective device

    A bittersweet day for that package's team: perhaps a decade of work preparing it, then it has to make way for the optics fix and all the glories and good data since. Hope the other teams bought them beers at the next conference...

    1. mantavani

      Re: >> removed one of the scientific instruments and installed the corrective device

      More than a decade - they started building the High‐Speed Photometer in the 70s. They did manage some success with their science package, though the primary mission was a failure - you can read about it here: - the module came back to Earth on board Endeavour and was at least useful in exploring the resilience of flight hardware, and if the rest of the telescope de-orbits it will at least be amongst the hardware that survived the mission.

      All is not lost, though - the last Hubble service visit installed a soft capture system (the original plan was to bring the whole telescope home in the back of a shuttle) so a future robotic rescue mission is at least theoretically feasible.

      1. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: >> removed one of the scientific instruments and installed the corrective device

        "NASA has a plan to send up a de-orbiting module that attaches to Hubble and drives it into orbital decay mode to allow it to be brought down into the ocean or on unpopulated land."

        I'm not an aerospace engineer and I think it is great there is a contingency plan in place if the telescope needs to be removed from orbit, but if it can be pushed down, why not go the other direction and keep it going? Even though there are other incredible telescopes coming online, there will be plenty for all of them to do for a very long time.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: >> removed one of the scientific instruments and installed the corrective device

          >why not go the other direction and keep it going

          For how long? Just boosting the orbit would need continuing amounts of fuel, eventually that will run out and you have to deorbit anyway.

          Operating it means replacement components, generally gyros but batteries, data recorders and computers all die. It also involves a lot of expensive ground support to schedule time, upload missions, collect and store data and pay for people to work on the data.

          1. Robert Helpmann??

            Re: >> removed one of the scientific instruments and installed the corrective device

            For how long?

            As long as it continues to produce useful scientific data that costs less to obtain than that of replacing it with something else. To be sure keeping something like this requires a budget, most of which is getting the thing into place to begin with, followed on by repairing it when needed. As far as the ground support costs, well that is rather implied in the use of the equipment. In fact, one might argue that having all that data to analyze and store and all of those people involved in doing so is rather the point of the project. As Dr McCarthy was quoted in the article, there may be other options.

  3. johnnymotel

    Build a space station around it

    1. Martin Budden Silver badge

      Build a space elevator next to it, then stick it on with gaffer tape.

  4. Little Mouse

    "parts of the massive instrument will survive the trip back through Earth's atmosphere and could fall on populated areas"

    Hopefully they'll be able to keep the camera running and stream the whole thing live.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So the fix was "Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement" ... where were ElReg's commentards when they were needed. Surely it should have been a "Field Upgrade to Correct Known Unforcussed Pixels"

  6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    A lot can happen... 25-30 years before Hubble falls/is de-orbited. With the various private companies like SpaceX now in the LEO business after what is really quite a short time, even though building on the shoulders of giants, I can hardly wait to see what will be happening in the launch business in 25 years time. Maybe it will be re-purposed or upgraded or brought back for a museum.

    (on the other hand, I'll be about 80 by then so will probably be pissing my self while complaining that everything tastes like chicken.)

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      We might be pissing ourselves, and we might even be in the same retirement home, but we'll be watching astounding achievements not hindered by government red tape.

      I just hope we'll be aware enough to realize what those pretty images on the screen mean.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: A lot can happen...

      Except for thermal IR, where you need to be a couple of million km at L2 or x-ray ground based telescopes are now better.

      We are building 30m mirrors, compared to hubble's 2.3m or JWST 6.5m, adaptive optics can beat hubble's resolution and you can build new instruments every year. Building on the ground will always be much cheaper, so you get much more data for your money

    3. ian 22

      Re: A lot can happen...

      Very likely we'll be buying tours of the "Orbital Greats" from Mr. Musk (or Sir Branson). Hubble being one of the major attractions, of course.

  7. Wombling_Free
    Black Helicopters

    Who really believes the mirror tale anymore?

    The Hubble's mirror was the 11th made. You're really telling me that Lockheed (hmmm, that name rings a bell) built 10 mirrors then screwed up the 11th? Or did the NSA tell Lockheed "just muck it up a little bit, we don't want people to figure out how powerful Keyholes 1 to 10 really are. Those astro-boffin dome-heads won't notice" Occam's razor - sudden error on critical spacecraft component or deliberate mistake? This doesn't take a huge conspiracy either, just a few key people at LH & NSA.

    Secondly: "parts of the massive instrument will survive the trip back through Earth's atmosphere and could fall on populated areas" Oh, yeah sure. The Columbia broke up and scattered itself over some very heavily populated areas, and no-one was killed or injured. Plenty of spacecraft have come down over populated areas (there's even a chunk of Soviet spacecraft that landed on Sydney in the Powerhouse Museum) and there is not a single case of anyone being hit. The chances of damage are astronomically (hah!) low. However the chances of someone getting their hands on some of the kit from a Keyhole Spy Satelite? Ah, well, of course THAT is the real problem isn't it?

    It is so bloody sad that we have pretty much had single-figure numbers of actually useful space-science telescopes, while there are hundreds of warmongering spy sats of far greater power up there, at hundreds of times the cost, while science has to beg and plead for the tiniest scrap of funding.

    Little wonder The Culture aren't interested in Contacting us, we would ruin the party. We really don't deserve to survive as a species. (I might have been reading some Stephen Baxter lately, yes)

    1. ian 22

      Re: Who really believes the mirror tale anymore?

      WTF? Lockheed didn't make Hubbel's mirror! That was Perkin-Elmer. With such a name (sorry, Elmer Fudd) what could have been expected?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Retro fit for interstellar flight?

    I suppose it would cost a lot, but what if NSA fit Hubble for a long flight in to the night?

    Nuclear power pack, heaters, long range telemetry, booster and an ion drive.

    Send it on a gentle trajectory to towards the most promising exo-planets.

    I'm sure a telescope in a far flung position would produce interesting triangulated data with Earth.

  9. Mark_S

    It has not gone unnoticed that if you can boost it down, you can boost it up. The question is how much of the telescope is still working when you decide to do it. For example, the NICMOS infrared instrument is not currently working because of a problem with the cooling loop. The other instruments are all working well, so the telescope may have quite a long life span ahead it it, even without repairs.

    The cost of continued operation is small -- on the order of a few 10's of millions of dollars a year, so after all the initial investment, you might as well get as much as you can out of it.

    If SpaceX finds a way to refurbish Hubble inexpensively some day, that is all the better.

  10. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    question ...

    Anyway, a more important question ... how do you test a mirror to be used in a weightless environment to fractions of a wavelength when the mirror and its mounting cell will distort under it's own weight on Earth?

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