Hubble Telescope Back in the Photography Business
The Hubble Space Telescope has winked back to life and resumed sending images of the universe never seen before.
NASA announced last week that its engineers had successfully revived the control computer onboard the orbiting science platform and pointed its far-seeing camera at distant galaxies to capture an astounding photo.
The Hubble had been out of commission for a month before the complicated workaround succeeded (see NASA: Hubble Telescope Fixed and Ready to Perform).
Last Thursday, the vehicle's Wide Field Planetary Camera transmitted an image of gravitationally interacting galaxies back to the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., proving that the Hubble was back in working order. Astronomers believe the two galaxies, known together as Arp 147, some 400 million light-years away, at one time collided with one another. The photo from the Hubble was assembled from images collected by the camera's blue, infrared, and visible light filters.
According to a BBC article online, NASA has decided to postponed its shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble back to April at the earliest, in order to work on a control unit held in reserve since 1990 in storage. The servicing mission, known as STS-25, was originally to have launched this month aboard Atlantis. Instead, NASA will push ahead on 14 November with its next flight to the International Space Station, STS-126, aboard Endeavour.
"Our plan overall takes something on the order of about six-and-a-half months from now," said Preston Burch, the Hubble's manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "There's about a month or so devoted to inspecting and resolving any of the performance issues associated with [the spare unit]; about three months for environmental tests; and then about two to two-and-a-half months to do final testing and shipping down to the Kennedy Space Center and getting it installed on the orbiter."
In addition to swapping the reserve Science Instrument Command and Data Handling Unit for its balky original, the STS-125 crew will need to perform a long list of upgrades to the Hubble to keep it as a viable observatory for years to come. These include: replacing batteries and gyroscopes; installing the new Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph; and repairing the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.
With the retirement of the shuttle fleet in the next few years, it will have to be a well-prepared and executed mission to serve as the final chance to rejuvenate a science platform that has made so much history in its lifetime.