Hubble resumes science operations

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After three weeks of successful trouble-shooting of a backup gyroscope scientists have now returned the Hubble Space Telescope to full science operations.

Everyone should understand that this situation is now very temporary. Hubble no longer has any backup gyroscopes. If another fails, they will have to go to a one-gyroscope mode, holding the second working gyroscope back as a back-up, in order to extend the telescope’s life as much as possilbe. In that mode the telescope can operate for a significant period, but will have limited capabilities.


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  • Joe

    Amazing the lifespan of this machine, also amazing we don’t have a way to service this remarkable eye to the universe, as costly as the space shuttle was, it was useful for missions like this, it feels as though we have gone backwards in space exploration.

  • Lee S

    Bob, you know more than almost anyone alive about this space telescope…. What would be needed to.perform an update mission?
    I’ve read the last spl mission ever, but read very little why… I guess dragon and Orion have.very little EVA capabilities… But I’m not sure…
    Any info as to why we can’t sort a repair mission appreciated!

  • Lee S. It would be possible to send a robotic mission to replace the gyros. When such a mission was proposed a decade ago to replace the last manned servicing after the Columbia accident, the technology was simply not there yet. Today, things have changed significantly.

    In fact, it would be an amazing public relations coup for a private company to propose and mount such a mission.There are at least two companies today developing robotic systems for repairing and extending the life of communications satellites. NASA meanwhile has a demo project on ISS proving out the engineering for other satellite repairs, and has had such a repair mission in the planning stages. Finally, SpaceX’s innovations with landing first stage boosters as well as the software work created for planetary missions like New Horizons and Hayabusa-2 has provided much of the software development needed for robots to do this.

    Personally, I have predicted now for more than a decade that such a thing would eventually happen. I think we shall see if my prediction is right in the very near future.

    One caveat: Such a mission must happen while the telescope is operational. Once the last gyros fail the telescope will quickly deteriorate to a point it can no longer do the work it is designed for. Therefore, we need to begin thinking about this now.

  • mpthompson

    Bob, does a gyro repair mission have to be very complex? For instance, I can see how a robotic mission that cracks open the sides of the Hubble to gain access to and replace the circuit boards could be very complex and on the edge of what might be possible (essentially replace the dexterity of a human). However, could a gyro module be made so that it is rigidly fixed to an external surface of Hubble and some simple wired/wireless communication takes place to feed the telemetry from the new module to the guidance system? Something that gets the job done, but is much less invasive than the shuttle repair missions to the Hubble.

    It would be an absolute shame to lose the Hubble because the gyros wore out.

  • mpthompson: Hubble’s gyros were designed for easy modular replacement. There is no reason a modern robotic mission couldn’t do it.

    Placing new gyros on the outside of the telescope would introduce far more complex engineering problems.

  • mpthompson

    Good to hear that the gyros are replaceable. I hope your prediction comes true and Hubble can continue through the 2020s and beyond.

  • mpthompson: Shuttle astronauts replaced the gyros multiple times. There even was one mission launched specifically to replace gyros only.

  • wayne

    they do have quite a bit of the space-shuttle servicing-mission video at YouTube.

    Nicely put together short below, wherein they mention the “soft capture mechanism” that was installed at the last servicing mission.
    This video says the Hubble is going down by 2024 just by virtue of it’s decaying orbit.

    How the Hubble Space Telescope Will Die

    Personally, I want this instrument saved, but I think the realistic window on doing that has passed.
    The orbit has be boosted, or anything else is in vain. (I have the distinct impression, we are technologically capable of saving this instrument, but we are choosing not to… I mean, if they can make a robotic dog climb up stairs and run around the parking lot, I would assume we could save the Hubble.)
    [it is my firm belief– in general, people want spectacular pictures, and they are willing to let NASA spend lots-of-money to get them, but they have to produce.

    Q: How easy is it to change out the camera’s? I was under the impression they were modular in nature as well.

  • wayne

    –this guy, is telling me the orbit of the Hubble will decay “between 2028-2040.” That range doesn’t sound right to me.

    “Can We Save Hubble and Where is the James Webb Space Telescope?”
    Curious Droid 10-25-18

  • wayne: The orbital decay is hard to predict. It depends on the sun’s activity. I would trust a more recent prediction. I have also been told we likely have until the late 2020s, if not longer.

  • It’d take a cost/benefit analysis to decide whether a manned vs. robotic mission would be better and taking into account robotic missions to other targets beyond Hubble. But taking into account only Hubble, manned might be quicker and more useful, short term (say, keeping Hubble alive for 20 years). It would not take a lot of work to modify a Cygnus to have and airlock/docking adaptor welded to the berthing port, with an RMS on the outside (Cygnus is launched inside a fairing), then send it up to Hubble on an Atlas 5. It would rendezvous and grapple to Hubble. Then you’d send up a repair crew aboard a Dragon 2, with the replacement parts in the Trunk. Once done, the Cygnus would be placed in a storage orbit at minimal power until needed again. Periodic Dragon 2 flights would come up with more spare parts. The Cygnus and Dragons could also do Hubble reboost as needed.

  • Chris Cresta

    Bob, would it be possible for NASA to turn the unused spy satellite from the two gifted to them into a Hubble replacement, especially since it already has a Hubble grade mirror.

  • Chris Cresta: It would be possible, but Congress would have to fund it, and it would likely cost as much and take as long as the first Hubble.

    This harks back to the decision by the astronomy community to not build a new Hubble, but focus on an infrared telescope (Webb).

  • William Barton: Interesting. I suspect using Dragon would be harder than you think. For one thing, the SpaceX spacesuits are not adequate for spacewalks, and I doubt you could fit NASA’s suits in Dragon, with a crew.

    Still, this is interesting, and would be worth exploring.

  • Robert, what I had in mind was putting the EVA equipment (probably ISS EVA suits) in the Cygnus, hence the airlock/docking adaptor on the Cygnus as well. You could conceivably use Russian equipment, and then maybe a Soyuz (with its own airlock) instead of a Dragon 2. You could also use an HTV, which has its own unpressurized cargo bay, which would allow a Starliner (which doesn’t have a trunk) instead of a Dragon 2. I’d prefer all-US equipment though, which pragmatically means Cygnus and Dragon 2. It just doesn’t seem that tricky. The equipment exists (some only recently stashed in museums), the rockets and capsules exist, and there are trained astros. The main problem seems to be failure of imagination.

  • born01930

    W Barton,

    I have been thinking similar…a node could be built complete with airlock and I had no idea about Cygnus. Mount a downsized Canada Arm to the side so the Astronaut could be lifted shuttle-like to Hubble.

    How much is Hubble worth? I certainly don’t know…you can’t use replacement value as it wasn’t planned to be replaced. Certainly $500M sounds reasonable…does NASA want Hubble that much though? Maybe they prefer it disabled to allow a continuing push for JWST. Yes I know, different capabilities but the public doesn’t know that and NASA doesn’t care. It’s all about funding. I almost wish Musk would tweet out “Hey NASA I’ll fix Hubble for $500M…pay when done, you in?” that way it gets the public involved and bypasses the red tape.

  • Edward

    Once we have more hardware that is capable of another Hubble rescue (robotic or manned), then perhaps Congress will be willing to consider the possibility. They don’t seem very interested in funding such an effort, right now.

    I think that we have already, are developing, and can quickly develop the technology needed for such a rescue mission. However, Musk has other priorities for SpaceX, but someone else or another company could make a similar offer to rescue Hubble for a reasonable fee. SpaceX may not be willing to divert the resources necessary to create and execute such a rescue mission.

    SpaceX or Boeing would likely be more than happy to rent a Dragon or Starliner, and Northrop Grumman or Bigelow would likely be happy to sell a Cygnus or B330, either of which could be used as a research station between Hubble missions, reducing the overall cost of the rescue. All we need now is another Paul Allen and a cooperative Congress.

  • wayne

    Q: How are the solar panels & batteries, holding out on Hubble?
    (I’m looking for current orbit decay data, and came upon the Factoid that the Hubble runs on 1200 watts of solar electric.)

    Just an amateur, but I’d pay Musk actual costs + a decent profit, if he saved the Hubble.

  • One final comment, if anyone’s interested. I’ve spent a fair amount of time imagining what could be done with off the shelf hardware, and gotten a number of books, stories, and magazine articles out of the process. If anyone were going to service Hubble with what’s more or less available right now, it’d have to happen more or less right away, start now and be ready to be aloft in a year or so. If you offered Musk $500 million to service Hubble and gave him a 3-year deadline, he’d apply the money to the BFR project, and in 3 years you’d see an un-crewed BS cargo transport with a teleoperated robot arm go aloft, capture Hubble, secure it to museum-piece Shutle satellite trunions, return it to the ground for servicing, then put it back in orbit when finished. That’s probably what will happen anyway, if BFR/BFS works out even close to as prophesied in even close to the Musk time-frame. A lot of people are underestimating what BFR will mean. And SpaceX won’t be alone. When New Glenn is flying, I think New Armstrong will come along only a couple of years later. It’ll have a BFR-class first stage, and use a modified New Glenn as its upper stages. Not long after that, a Big Blue Spaceship will come on line. You remember when Musk said he needed $5 billion to finish up BFR? Jeff Bezos has $5 billion (and more).

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