back to article 31-year-old piece of hardware not working very well: Hubble telescope back in safe mode over 'synchronization issues'

The veteran Hubble Space Telescope (HST) tripped back into safe mode yesterday, leaving science operations suspended while the latest technical woe is investigated. The problem this time is "synchronization issues with internal spacecraft communications," according to the observatory's social media orifice, normally awash with …

  1. Joe W Silver badge
    Unhappy

    "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

    This.

    Yes, I understand the background, it was in some sense a sensible decision to retire the Space Shuttle fleet. In space exploration "sensible" or "cost efficient" should probably be less of a main driver, though. On the other hand my feelings about this might be just that: feelings, emotional - which should not be factors in such decisions. Weird: My kids have a book about space, it does not include Pluto as a planet, but still (and quite prominently) the Space Shuttle, the last flight of which was a few years before the kids were even born. Yes, that part is written in present tense. There are also some pages about the Saturn V rocket and the Moon landings - which are written in past tense.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

      Conversely, they've kept HST going for the past 12 years without having to visit it, so the shuttle fleet would've been superfluous in this regard anyway.

      I'm still sad that they're not flying any more though.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

      " In space exploration "sensible" or "cost efficient" should probably be less of a main driver, though."

      Yes, within reason though. Ideally NASA and other space agencies have a large and ever-increasing budget. In real life politicians keep trying to trim it down. So internally there have to be some 'bang-for-the-buck' compromises, and also the realpolitik that new shiny-shiny like JWST that will deliver new and highly visible results is also advertising targeted at the public and at politicians to keep the funding going - which in turn is needed to fund the projects that are much less visible or even potentially politically controversial (like temperature, CO2 etc monitoring).

      In the case of the shuttle, 2 major disasters over 30 years and 135 missions isn't awful in the context of the advancements made and the work done, but the high visibility of them surely impacted teh shutting-down decision, as well as having to maintain technology that at that point was pushing 40 years old.

      The pity was the lack of forward planning to have a shuttle replacement developed in the 'noughties to be ready for the 'teens.

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

        I heard the UK Space Agency got a budget last week to buy some more rockets. After a full investigation and tendering exercise to get best value for the UK taxpayer they found Asda were selling them cheap ...

        1. hittitezombie

          Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

          Perfect for 5th of November.

        2. EnviableOne Silver badge

          Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

          the last example of Black Arrow is sitting in the science museum, could probably be made to fly

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

        As iconic as the Shuttle was, and with all the services to Science it did render, the Shuttle was not economically viable.

        Add to that a layer of management that pays more attention to the schedule and PR than to temperatures and engineering issues, and it is a very good thing that the Shuttle was shut down, because I am convinced that those bungling beancounters at the head of NASA would have caused another shocking failure in the following years.

        And we don't need that memory.

    3. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

      Even the first HST servicing mission (to correct the wonky mirror) was probably a bad idea. That mission (and every servicing mission since) has cost more than it would have cost to build a HST Mk2/3/4/5 and launch it into orbit. The first mission was a face saving exercise by the Merkins - We launched it, and it IS going to work.

      Each servicing mission since then was along the lines of - Look what we can do that you can't. If common sense had had a look in then bigger, better, badder versions of the HST would have been lofted every 5-6 years, and at times there would have been three of them up there all running at the same time. And with the hardware on each upgraded from the previous one.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

        >That mission (and every servicing mission since) has cost more than it would have cost to build a HST Mk2/3/4/5 and launch it into orbit.

        It was also estimated that extra costs to make HST a "man rated" mission to allow servicing + the cost of storage after the first Shuttle incident = 3x the cost of building a HST

        1. Red Ted Silver badge
          Go

          Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

          A point is that the correction to the HST was fitted in significantly less time than it would have taken to build a new HST.

          At the point they found the fault the HST was in orbit and Shuttle was operational to be able to deliver the fix, so they could do so quickly.

          If they had built a new one that would have taken significantly longer and then there would have been the specification creep to contend with. Never mind the “you are abandoning *how* much money?”.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

        You fail to understand it was not just servicing the telescope - but showing it could be done by men and women in space, and gather the necessary knowledge about working in space. Latest missions even replaced components that weren't designed to be serviced in space.

        Yes - it's "let's do something that wasn't ever done before".

        With your mindset, it's also useless to send a telescope in space, and probably even to build a telescope anywhere, they are just wasted money to look at things too far away to be useful in any way.

        Even launching larger version of the Hubble was not so easy - because the payload capacity of the Shuttle wasn't matched by any other available launcher. And building another would have required anyway years and lots of money....

        1. the small snake
          Pirate

          Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

          What a silly comment. If you want to show that people can do things in space (which is good thing to do), then get them to do something hard and that can't be better done by simply designing and flying a new and better version of the thing you already designed and flew.

          I am astronomer (well, astronomer-related perhaps): I want better, cheaper, more telescopes, I have no (professional) interest in fewer, more expensive, probably worse telescopes being built so that people in spacesuits can go and fiddle with them. If better, cheaper, more means less servicable then I want that. And that is what it does mean, and what it did mean even in 1990. If other people want to send people into space to show they can work there (good thing to do) I would like it not to come from my telescope budget please.

          Saying that thinking that means I have no curiosity is both insulting and stupid.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            You are an astronomer - others are not.

            But NASA is not for astronomers only - it was created for aeronautics and space activities. Some people care about telescopes, other care about human beings be able to travel and operate in space. In the meantime they can also lift telescopes and maintain it - why not?

            Hubble didn't come from your telescope budget, and it doesn't look to me that since Hubble launch earth based telescopes starved and you're still forced to use the eighty year old Palomar.

            Looks to me a lot of new and bigger telescopes became operative - far more and better than even before. It's really a great time to be an astronomer.

            So, really, no need to whine about Hubble maintenance missions - and don't believe those money would have been just spent in more telescopes.

            For being an astronomer - or related, you really look short-sighted.

            1. the small snake
              Alien

              Re: You are an astronomer - others are not.

              Well, you see, money is fungible: what is spent from tax revenue on one thing can not also be spent on another thing. 'Budgets' are a fiction. If HST had not been built there would have been money for robot telescope, or more robot telesopes.

              However I was wrong about something important. I said elsewhere that JWST is not expensive because is same price as HST: that's wrong. HST cost was huge bloat because of Shuttle & servicing madness: JWST does not have that silliness but it still is $10 billion: is vastly, vastly more than it should be.

              For cost of HST could have put *four* Perserverence rovers on Mars, or built *ten* VLTs: forty 8.2M mirrors usable as interferometers and perhaps even as one huge interferometer. Each servicing mission for HST would fund a VLT (pointed out by someone else here: I did not think of this). Perhaps there are astronomers who would rather have one HST instead of ten VLTs. But probably not many. Or could have several much cheaper robot space telescopes (as JWST should have been) with shorter lives and several more VLTs.

              Ah, but you say, that's not the point: HST was never about astronomy it was about humans doing things in space. Well, if you want that, then do things in space that robots cannot do: build cheaper robot telescopes for the astronomers and spend money for humans in space doing experiments which it is hard for machines to do.

              Even better, if what you really want is human spaceflight (which I want too): cancel shuttle in early 80s when it was clear it was an elephant but before it had started to kill people and before it had eaten most of its cost, and build manned space flight system which is not elephant. Humans would today be on the Moon and probably on Mars if it was not for the idiot shuttle. And there very definitely are things humans can do on the Moon and Mars which robots find very hard. And the systems you built to do that could easily lift a number of robot telescopes as well. Indeed they could probably put those telescopes in much better orbits than the shuttle could.

              But that didn't happen because of pride and Concorde fallacy of course.

              HST has done (and still does) good science, but at an enormous cost, and it is not justified by some argument that servicing it is a good thing: people can do far more interesting things in space than service telescopes.

              Well, I also now have maths to do which is more interesting than arguing on the internet. I am sure you will downvote me.

              1. LDS Silver badge

                "HST had not been built there would have been money for robot telescope"

                Or maybe not. Other telescopes were built anyway and sent to space too - Chandra, Spitzer, etc etc. If Hubble had been cancelled, those money could have been used for something wholly different.

                Also. sending people into space with cannonball capsule with little payload and maybe reusable just a few times, with no other capability than just going there and return, is really just a waste of resources. Going to the Moon or Mars just to stamp a foot on it is quite useless, unless you just aim for the "record".

                Sure, now we are back to build 1960s style rockets and capsules, yeah, "return the Moon", put a little payload there while destroying thousands of tons of high-quality materials just to get there. Very sustainable. Very smart. Just like Apollo, all those project will be terminated after few launches.

                The Shuttle was a first step in the right direction. Start colonizing low orbits, and learn how to live and operate in space. Than move forward. Just it became clear NASA could no longer manage a project so complex. So get back at those rockets like those that was designed by people born a century ago with paper and rulers, mighty computers are useless if the engineers in front of them are lame.

              2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: You are an astronomer - others are not.

                A second JWST would have been far less expensive. When you build one copy of a leading edge bit of kit, you pay a premium for it. In this case I could be persuaded to agree that it's too much. A half dozen Hubble class space telescopes might have been a better buy. There could have be variations for different types of observations. Having more would also allow more people to book time.

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: You are an astronomer - others are not.

              "and you're still forced to use the eighty year old Palomar."

              The 60" on Mt Wilson is available for rent and the last time I visited, I was told that the 100" Hooker telescope would be available for rent to anybody in the near future and this was some time ago that I was there.

              The neat thing about big well built telescopes is they last for ages. I would still like to get together a group to rent at least the 60" telescope for a night. I may not live long enough to get time on the Keck telescopes and it takes me lots of time to acclimate to that altitude.

      3. idiot taxpayer here again

        Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

        @KittenHuffer

        Just so you know a "merkin" is a pubic wig. That's about the only thing I learned at school that I can still remember. Sadly, it was a long time ago.

    4. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

      The shuttle should have been retired before it was ever launched into space.

      The 'original' shuttle that NASA wanted to build would have been a much smaller 'crew only' affair that would have been launched on top of a 'normal' rocket. They would then rendezvous with equipment that had been launched on a separate rocket. But their budget was cut to the point where they couldn't afford it.

      Then along came the military, who were willing to make up the budget, if the the crew and equipment (spy satellite) were launched together, and it was capable of retrieving satellites if required. Thus the shuttle we know came about, with all the compromises that this requirement enforced (solid rocket boosters & external fuel tank). The sad thing is that by the time they had it ready to fly the military were happy to loft their spy satellites on a single rocket cos they were capable of setting themselves up without human intervention, and they weren't worried about retrieval cos the idea of putting film cameras in the spy satellites had passed long ago.

      So NASA was left with this white elephant that Merkin pride forced them to use because they'd paid for it!

    5. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

      Yes, I understand the background, it was in some sense a sensible decision to retire the Space Shuttle fleet. In space exploration "sensible" or "cost efficient" should probably be less of a main driver, though.

      It cost ~ 2 billion to build and launch Hubble.

      The space shuttle programme had a budget of $196 billion for 131 launches, a cost of $1.45 billion per launch.

      5 shuttle launches went to Hubble servicing, so just the launches for the servicing (excluding the parts cost) cost $7.25 billion.

      An Ariane 5 rocket launch cost €139–€185 million; so doing the servicing jobs with a disposable rocket instead of the Space Shuttle would have saved enough money to launch a pair of replacement hubbles. Or hell, just don't service it at all and launch a fleet of three new hubbles with a slightly improved design.

      The Shuttle program was excellent at providing well paid mass employment and terrible at achieving the titular aim of the project; to get things to space in a cost efficient manner.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        "so doing the servicing jobs with a disposable rocket instead"

        Which rocket and capsule was able in those years to perform such a service mission? Would have building that capacity again been cheaper? And Ariane 5 wasn't available before 1998.

        1. the small snake
          Alien

          Re: "so doing the servicing jobs with a disposable rocket instead"

          None was: none is. But you could build and fly FIVE HSTs (and in fact more than five: subsequent ones would be cheaper, ones designed for not to be serviced would be cheaper) for the same price. Subsequent ones would also be better. Five HSTs is one for every 6 years of the HST's life. If they were cheaper as not designed to be serviced and cheaper as being almost mass-produced perhaps you could fly ten: one for every three years of HST's life.

          Oh well, whatever.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: "so doing the servicing jobs with a disposable rocket instead"

            If Hubble's build and launch costs were ~2 billion, with ~1.45 billion going to the shuttle than that logically suggests a build cost for Hubble of ~$550 million.

            Titan IV cost $432 million per launch, so that'd come to $982 million per Hubble in orbit assuming you launched each hubble on it's own rocket.

            The total cost appears to have been $2 billion to build and launch Hubble, and $7.25 billion for launches (excluding parts etc) for servicing. That's $9.25 billion in total, which would get you 9 Hubbles unserviced delivered to orbit on their own rockets plus some change left over.

            Or interestingly, the weight specs for the Titan IV rocket appear to be capable of hefting two Hubbles in a launch. This is probably not a coincidence as the Hubble was apparently a relation to the KH11 spy scope. If Titan IV is able to launch a pair of Hubbles per launch then it'd work out as $1.53 billion on a Titan IV launching a pair of Hubbles, which would get you six launches for $9.25 billion which would have been 12 Hubbles in orbit for $9.18 billion with $310 million left over compared to the cost of launching and maintaining one Hubble with the Shuttle even if you didn't get any cost efficiencies when doing series production.

            Hence why I say the shuttle was terrible at getting things to orbit in a cost effective manner. ;)

            Obviously It's a moot subject really as it's too late to do anything about and i'm not even American, but the cost of the Shuttle program is an interesting example of the "sunk cost fallacy" at work!

            1. LDS Silver badge

              "r to be capable of hefting two Hubbles in a launch."

              You can't look at weight only. Size matters too. Each rocket has a maximum size of the payload to be lifted too... and a telescope like Hubble is also large, since a lot of space inside is simply emtpy.

    6. hittitezombie

      Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

      For the price of the maintenance trips we could have built a new Hubble each time and launch it with a cheaper launch vehicle.A Three-letter-agency gifted NASA a bunch of mirrors perfectly sized for a Hubble and Hubble itself (size and build details) comes from NRO's optical earth observation satellites.

      James Webb telescope is not a replacement for Hubble, wrong frequency and will not live as long as Hubble.

      1. the small snake
        Boffin

        Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

        Those mirrors are not equivalent to HST's mirror: same size but much shorter focal length. Indeed is some distpute as to whether reusing the NRO mirrors & assemblies makes flying something cheaper or not.

        But mirror is rather small fraction of cost of HST-like telescope.

    7. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: "servicing the HST is no longer viable"...

      it was in some sense a sensible decision to retire the Space Shuttle fleet. In space exploration "sensible" or "cost efficient" should probably be less of a main driver, though

      In the case of the Shuttle, the main reason for it's retirement was safety. The thermal protection system (ie, the tiles on it's belly), were really fragile, and because it was alongside the main tank, rather than stacked on top like a normal rocket, it was really vulnerable to being hit by chunks of ice etc. during launch.

      It's a small miracle that they only lost Columbia and her crew. There was close shaves on other missions.

  2. the small snake
    Boffin

    JWST is not a new HST

    Is quite important to remember this. JWST will work mostly in mid-IR: is sensitive only as far as orange light. HST works mostly in visible with some near-IR. For much of its frequency range JWST will even not have as good resolution as HST – mirror is larger but wavelengths also are longer.

    JWST is right thing to fly since mid-IR is where the cosmologically-interesting stuff is, but it's not a new HST.

    (Also, just to head off inevitable 'vast overbudget' noise: JWST cost is about $9 billion in 2021 $. HST cumulative cost (including servicing) about $11.3 billion 2015 $. The thing to ask about JWST is not why it cost so much but why initial estimate ($500 million) was so absurdly low.)

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: JWST is not a new HST

      "The thing to ask about JWST is not why it cost so much but why initial estimate ($500 million) was so absurdly low.)"

      That's an easy one. It wouldn't have been signed off for its real price. The same principle applies to everything from household expenditure upwards.

      1. the small snake

        Re: JWST is not a new HST

        Probably that is correct

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: JWST is not a new HST

        It's history is even more perverse than that. It was originally (late 90s) a relatively cheap 6.5m lightweight monolithic mirror launched by an Ariane5, at the same unserviceable orbit.

        Then 9/11 happened and the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys declined an invitation to take part in Vietnam-II Desert Edition and so it had to be launched on a Freedom Rocket = hence the insane complicated folding design.

        As the design got more insanely complicated the costs went up and so it was cancelled in every round, but so much money and prestige was attached to it that it had to be reinstated. But each hold adds time and costs because it's built by a defense company that has other commercial priorities. Which led to more calls for a cancelation, which added more holds and more costs.

        Ultimately it got so expensive that NASA needed a foreign partner, who would also chip in a free launch - on the CESM Ariane5.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: JWST is not a new HST

          Voudriez-vous un morceau de fromage avec ça ?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: JWST is not a new HST

            So long as it isn't in an aerosol can we are happy to receive foreign cheese aid !

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Go

            Re: JWST is not a new HST

            As long as the JWST stays entirely uncontaminated by it.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge
              Holmes

              Re: JWST is not a new HST

              To the downvoter: the people involved in the JWST project can gormandize their Brie, Roquefort, Pont-l'Eveque, Port Salut, Savoyard, Saint-Paulin, Carre-de-L'Est, Boursin, Bresse Bleu, Perle de Champagne or Camembert as much as they like as far as I'm concerned, or of they're disinclined to partake in French comestibles of the class of fermented curds, that they polish off some Red Leicester, Tilsit, Caerphilly, Gruyere, Emmental, Jarlsberger, Liptauer, Lancashire, White Stilton, Danish Blue, Double Gloucester, Gouda, Edam, Caithness, Smoked Austrian, Japanese Sage Darby, Wensleydale, Feta, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Mozzarella, Pippo Creme, Fimboe, Venezuelan Beaver Cheese, Cheddar, Ilchester, or Limburger, as long as it doesn't end up on the JWST itself.

              IMHO.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: JWST is not a new HST

            > Voudriez-vous un morceau de fromage avec ça ?

            I dunno - what's the French for "humble pie"?

            1. Def Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: JWST is not a new HST

              Tarte humble.

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                Re: JWST is not a new HST

                Or gâteau modeste.

            2. John R. Macdonald

              Re: JWST is not a new HST

              If you mean "to eat humble pie" some French equivalents are "ravaler son orgueil", "mettre sa fierté de côté", "faire amende honorable", "baisser son fronc", "aller à Canossa".

        2. the small snake
          Boffin

          Re: JWST is not a new HST

          Yes, you are correct and my initial comment was wrong I think. I was comparing JWST cost with HST cost and assuming JWST was therefore not unreasonably expensive. But is wrong because HST cost was absurdly expensive for what it is because of shuttle/servicability bloat.

          Anyway, I really will stop now: there's no arguing with the shuttle fantasists I think.

        3. Andy The Hat Silver badge

          Re: JWST is not a new HST

          So a "cheap 6.5m lightweight monolithic mirror" was launching in a 5.4m diameter Ariane5 fairing? Something not quite right there ...

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: JWST is not a new HST

            It was to have a "turbo-bump" special fairing

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: JWST is not a new HST

            Surely you have seen vans with cargo partially sticking out because it doesn't fully fit inside?

            The French even invented the Giraffon, a hatch over a van's rear doors not entirely unlike a sunroof, that you can stick a ladder (or a giraffe) out of and allowing closing the doors.

    2. Lars Silver badge
      Go

      Re: JWST is not a new HST

      The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and JWST will compensate each other, which of course is a good thing for astronomy and such.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremely_Large_Telescope

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bplidaIbbAY

  3. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge
    Alien

    SpaceX ?

    When the SpaceX Starship is operational (probably some time in 2022 or 2023) a servicing mission to the Hubble might be a very worthwhile mission.

    (The carrying capacity of the SpaceX craft would be more than enough for a full set of replacement parts for the HST.)

    If SpaceX does manage its aim of full reusability then the mission cost should be under $50 million (plus the HST parts cost).

    (The capacity of the SpaceX craft would even allow it to bring the HST back to earth for servicing and then relaunch it afterwards.)

    Appropriate icon for a space mission ====>

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX ?

      It would be a bit ironic if the they discovered the current problems are due to damage caused by a collision with a Tesla.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: SpaceX ?

        It would be a bit ironic if the they discovered the current problems are due to damage caused by a collision with a Tesla.

        Might happen yet. I've read that they expect the Tesla to do two or three orbits before it gets into the problem areas were satellites hang out.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: SpaceX ?

          If it's on "auto pilot", the odds on it crashing into a satellite is even higher.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: SpaceX ?

      SpaceX lacks the multiple EVA capabilities - and carrying spare parts it's not enough (and hope they are small enough to be easily extracted from the Dragon latch...), you need a platform to dock the Hubble and keep in in place while astronauts works on it. And or this platform can be parked in orbit, or it would be destroyed on re-entry.

      Face it - nothing actually has the in-orbit capabilities of the Shuttle - but the ISS, which cannot be moved freely.

      NASA could have improved a couple of Shuttle and kept them operative for specific tasks like this, instead of using it as simple launcher. Using the actual technology, wasn't really possible to design a better replacement of the tiles, for example? And improve some of the critical systems?

      They decided instead to build new Apollo modules but with touch screens... maybe is better, they could have awarded the contract to build the Shuttle MAX to Boeing..

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: SpaceX ?

        NASA could have improved a couple of Shuttle and kept them operative

        Not really... it's still a dangerous configuration, and I couldn't ask astronauts to fly it. SpaceX is going with an interesting tile design, but we'll see if it survives re-entry. Lots of Shuttle tiles originally didn't.

        They should have done a design with a fully reusable booster. There was several designs where the booster was winged and flew back home with its own crew. There was also a design where the orbiter was on top of the tank instead of to the side.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: SpaceX ?

          "SpaceX is going with an interesting tile design, but we'll see if it survives re-entry. Lots of Shuttle tiles originally didn't."

          How many were re-entry issues, versus problems with ice, insulation, etc. shedding from the external tank? (Problems inherent in the overall shuttle design that aren't a problem with Apollo, Starship, or similar designs).

          Not asking to be contrarian, I'm just more familiar with the Columbia type of damage. ISTR early flights did have issues with keeping tiles adhered to the body, but I think that was resolved quickly.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: SpaceX ?

          "SpaceX is going with an interesting tile design"

          They're having issues with those tiles staying on. Apparently, the COE of the outside skin is causing the tiles to crack and fall off of the pin mounts they are using.

      2. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

        Re: SpaceX ?

        The (misnamed) Starship is MUCH larger than the Dragon - and it has a larger load capacity than the Shuttle (over 100 tons vs 29 tons for the Shuttle). This is more than is needed for any Hubble service mission.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: SpaceX ?

          How many orbits Starship did? What crew and EVA capabilities has it? What robotic arm to dock and hold anything in space? What facilities to supply power when performing maintenance tasks? Etc. etc..

          Sure, one day something with the same capabilities will be design and built. Right now, there's nothing operative.

      3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: SpaceX ?

        Send the X-37B up with a robotic arm to lock onto the latching point that was installed on HST. Now tow it over to the ISS where astronauts repair it on parts sent up on Dragon capsules.

        once repaired/serviced, X-37B takes HST to service orbit

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: SpaceX ?

          The towing capability is not so easy to achieve... also Hubble flies higher the the ISS, AFAIK.

  4. Alan J. Wylie

    As well as the James Webb

    There is also the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, due to launch in the mid-2020s.

    1. UCAP Silver badge

      Re: As well as the James Webb

      Designed specifically to focus (pun intended) on the search for dark energy.

    2. the small snake
      Boffin

      Re: As well as the James Webb

      Think this is using one of the NRO mirrors isn't it? Smells like it anyway, as they are same diameter as HST but much shorter focal length. There was discussion about whether reusing the NRO mirror would make it more expensive though.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: As well as the James Webb

        Yes, although a 2.4m mirror isn't the main cost factor and arguably you would rather have a modern lightweight mirror rather than a 70s era one. But it's good "swords into ploughshares" PR

        I'm guessing that the paperwork in transferring the asset, the testing, and some computer controlled re-polishing costs more and takes longer than making a new one - but that might be my experience of dealing with NASA.

        1. the small snake

          Re: As well as the James Webb

          Yes that was my understanding: was not at all clear whether reusing NRO mirrors would make things cheaper ... or more expensive. And as you say, mirror is actually rather cheap in these things.

  5. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "31-year-old piece of hardware not working very well"

    It would be great if a desktop Windows box lasted this long!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Your wish is my command

      I have both a Win3.11 and win95 box upstairs that still run quite happily. (A Dell and a (monochrome) Toshiba, for the record.)

      Mind you, if they were exposed to the punishment (especially the radiation) an orbital device has to deal with they would probably be in a sorry state by now. But that wouldn't be Microsoft's fault.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: "31-year-old piece of hardware not working very well"

      The trouble is we need to start building stuff that lasts a lot longer (in space) - 31 years, unless you are travelling at the speed of light doesn't get you very far... and then there is the return trip...

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: "31-year-old piece of hardware not working very well"

      "It would be great if a desktop Windows box lasted this long!"

      ... or an Apple laptop before support is dropped and perfectly good hardware isn't useful anymore.

  6. Flightmode

    > The problem this time is "synchronization issues with internal spacecraft communications,"

    You just KNOW that someone is going to try to blame BGP for this one too.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Or Daylight Saving Time. "Was it forward or back we were supposed to do?"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      DNS. It's always DNS.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Do Not Spin?

  7. spireite Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    Let's be honest, the hardware owes nothing more to the builders, or to the mssion by this point.

    Despite it having a few tweaks, most famously the dodgy mirror, and being a massively expensive mission - it's proved it's worth, and arguably proved to be great VFM.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Each service mission cost more than the VLT - would you rather have had 20+ 8m telescopes on the ground + ALMA + SKA

      1. the small snake
        Boffin

        Is not clear what looked better when HST was being designed in early 1980s: perhaps then people did not know what Shuttle flights would cost or what developments would happen for ground-based telescopes. I don't know: I was not born.

        But is extremely clear now: I would rather have several VLTs than Hubble, as would anyone I think. We should fly only telescopes that have abilities which can not be met on ground.

        Of course shuttle fantasists will differ, sadly.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Hubble was vastly more expensive and seriously scientifically constrained to make it Shuttle compatible.

          The Shuttle was massively more expensive and fatally less safe to meet USAF requirements.

          But neither of them would have been funded without these limitations.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "telescopes that have abilities which can not be met on ground."

          Any telescope in space has abilities that cannot be met on ground. Air is an issue. You can diminish its effects on resolution with complex means like adaptive optics and firing lasers, but for a small field of view, and not fully. And wavelengths that are fully blocked you can't recreate them. Nor they can work from dawn to sunset - and their latitude means they can't observe the full sky.

          That's why Webb has been built.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: "telescopes that have abilities which can not be met on ground."

            JWST or Herschel have to be in space - but they don't all have to be $20Bn 20 year programs.

            That's the big thing that SpaceX is changing.

            When you had a once/decade chance of $1+Bn Shuttle launch you had to make sure that your payload would work, which meant every last resistor had to be space-grade, which meant it cost $$$ and had to be a 20 years obsolete 'proven' design.

            So any mission cost a minimum of $10Bn and took 10-20years, at which point you might as well also build an entire institute around it. And that has to have a director and staff and has to be funded for 10-20years. And the payload needs to be manually operated , so that you have lots of staff because that adds to the budget and prestige of the institute which further ensures its funding.

            With a $50M launch available every day the economics of flying 10-20 space telescopes, built on a production line for $100M each with new instruments, operated by universities - even if a % of them fail.

            1. LDS Silver badge

              "built on a production line for $100M each with new instruments"

              Are you sure you can build them this way? Setting up a production line has its costs too. $100M is just a random number you think could be sensible - but maybe not. Also, you have to look at launch prices in the 1990s - not now.

              And BTW, SpaceX asked the Pentagon 316M for a single launch because it had to modify the fairing and other infrastructure for an NRO mission. Research satellites have often different requirements and are built differently from commercial satellites using a common infrastructure.

              And throw $<put your random number here> away after a few months because they no longer work because of a resistor?

  8. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
    Pint

    Design duration: 15 years

    Current duration: 31 years

    Expected duration: 36 years+

    Several beers for all involved.

  9. WolfFan Silver badge

    It’s going to L2?

    Problem 1: the L1, L2, and L3 points are all unstable. It will need to periodically fire a motor to adjust position. When it runs out of reaction mass, it will start drifting. Sending up more fuel will be interesting.

    Problem 2: L2 is on the other side of the Moon. Comms traffic will be interesting without a relay. I expect that as the main job is IR, they put it there to avoid problems from Earth, but they’re still going to need the relay. The overall life of the project is tied to the amount of fuel in the device and/or the life of the relay.

    Note that L4 and L5 are stable… and probably full of trapped small objects. Small objects at orbital velocities tend to have unhelpful effects. And only L2 is shielded from electromagnetic radiation from Earth.

    1. Dave Pickles
      Headmaster

      Re: It’s going to L2?

      It's going to the L2 point of the Sun - Earth system, not L2 Earth - Moon. It will be 1.5 million km from Earth so outside the Moon's orbit, but should only be eclipsed by the Moon rarely if at all (can't quickly find the inclination angle of the Moon's orbit).

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: It’s going to L2?

        This is an IR telescope it it's going to spend all its time pointing as far away from the Earth and Sun as possible.

        L2 isn't mathematically stable but JWST doesn't have to remain precisely on station and there isn't much else for it to drift into so precise station keeping isn't critical.

        To reduce costs you would expect this to be relatively autonomous, observations are planned a year in advance to optmise movements and it should have a lot more on-board storage and processing than HST - so constant comms shouldn't be necessary

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: It’s going to L2?

          "L2 isn't mathematically stable but JWST doesn't have to remain precisely on station and there isn't much else for it to drift into so precise station keeping isn't critical."

          IIRC it isn't aiming to become stationary at the L2 lagrange point. It is actually going into an orbit around the L2 point. I figured that this must keep it 'on station' with a lower fuel burn than trying to sit in one exact spot. It would certainly allow them to pick the best point in the orbit to use the least fuel for corrective burns.

      2. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: It’s going to L2?

        Ah. That makes sense. So it’ll have the Earth screening against IR from the Sun, just not very well thanks to the sizes, and a direct comms link, though with a significant delay.

    2. Richard Boyce

      Re: It’s going to L2?

      It's going to the Earth-Sun L2 point, not the Earth-Moon L2 point.

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: It’s going to L2?

      It will need to periodically fire a motor to adjust position. When it runs out of reaction mass, it will start drifting. Sending up more fuel will be interesting.

      I just hope they filled the fuel tanks completely. I forget which space mission it was, but the spec called for something like 75% full, but the engineers topped off the tank before launch. Got them quite a bit of extra time.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: It’s going to L2?

        I just hope they filled the fuel tanks completely.

        At the current prices?

    4. hittitezombie

      Re: It’s going to L2?

      Optical scopes are OK with QRM, as long as no one is pointing a laser pointer to it.

  10. Swordfish1

    And if the James Webb has a glitch, who is going to service that kit

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      It's not meant to be serviceable.

      Astroboffins aren't stupid enough to miss the importance of where they're parking their kit.

    2. WolfFan Silver badge

      Send Elon.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        He'd just wipe the windscreen and then shout at you through the side window demanding more!

  11. msobkow Silver badge

    I think the Hubble has done many, many times its designed and planned for duty cycle. Kudos to the engineers who built such sturdy hardware and kept it going with spit and bandaids for so many decades! :)

    1. James O'Shea

      This is the way NASA, and Boeing, and McDonnell-Douglas, used to do things. I think that Nortrup-Grumman still works that way. A Grumman product once towed a McDonnell product back from the Moon, so if Grumman still builds 'em right, then I'd pick them for anything I would ride in out beyond the atmosphere.

      1. Proton_badger

        NASA still does. Several of the the doodahs on Mars seem to have exceeded their original mission parameters. Boeing on the other hand...

      2. hittitezombie

        That was 50 years ago, it's not the same company anymore.

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Don't forget Voyager

      Aren't they both still working after what 40+ years?

      We still have very aged aircraft flying. The B-52 fleet is about to receive another upgrade. The newest airframe was built in 1963 (or something like that). This upgrade will take it to around 100 years after the first flight (1952)

      Then... we are scrapping commercial aircraft built 20 years ago and well before the end of their planned life.

      Progress eh?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't forget Voyager

        >Then... we are scrapping commercial aircraft built 20 years ago and well before the end of their planned life.

        Commercial aircraft have to make money, if they are more expensive to fly than modern plane s- airlines aren't scrapping them just because they enjoy the process of buying new ones.

        >Progress eh?

        From keeping nuclear bombers airworthy 30years after the end of their enemy just so we can bomb goats in XXXX-stan for $2Tn before deciding to stop bothering ?

        1. hittitezombie

          Re: Don't forget Voyager

          Also commercial aircraft fly much more often than military aircraft and accumulate a lot more flying hours, leave alone the number of landings.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Don't forget Voyager

        "The B-52 fleet is about to receive another upgrade"

        There comes a point where upgrading is more complex than building a whole new aircraft. The B-52 should have had engine upgrades decades ago or scrapped completely.

        If the basic design is good, that saves a bunch of time on the redesign, but it's unlikely that the OML (outer mold line) is that good in light of the many advances since the B-52 was designed.

        The biggest problem sometimes is a huge overreach on a replacement. If a B-52 replacement aircraft had the exact same mission requirements, although much better fuel efficiency, that should be fine given the old ones are still in service and planned to remain in service.

  12. Uncle Ron

    Just Another Keyhole

    Hubble is just a Keyhole spy satellite that's pointing up instead of down. I know that sounds like a simplistic comparison, but it literally is true. Hubble was made in the same factory by the same company with the same basic components. We have ONE Hubble. How many Keyholes are there and just exactly what good do we get from them? How much revolutionary science and stunning images and inspiring insight have we gotten from Hubble? And how much from the Keyholes? (At least a dozen of them...) We could probably put up another Hubble with 2020's computers in 12 months if we only had some real leadership in this country. It makes me want to hurl.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Just Another Keyhole

      Hubble instruments are very different from the Keyholes ones. Even the mirror had to be different for space obervations- that's why it was defective, if it had been machined like the Keyhole ones it would have not been. The glass blank was the same.

      "We could probably put up another Hubble with 2020's computers in 12 months"

      Relying too much on today's computer instead of competent people is probably what caused NASA to revert to 1960s rocket designs. Probably because the source of German engineers dried many years ago.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021