NASA Cancels Shuttle Mission to Hubble Space Telescope

By Keith Cowing
January 16, 2004
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NASA Cancels Shuttle Mission to Hubble Space Telescope

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe directed the cancellation of a previously planned space shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope today.

The mission, although named SM4 would have been the fifth shuttle visit to Hubble was planned for launch some time in 2005.

According to internal memo “budget was not a driving concern, nor was the new Bush space initiative.”

NASA’s Office of Space Science did not oppose this decision by O’Keefe and had set aside the budget to pay for the Shuttle flight.

According to the internal memo, and an email today from Anne Kinney, Director, Astronomy and Physics Division, the decision to cancel this shuttle visit was based on safety issues.

A number of new safety procedures are to be implemented for shuttle flights to the space station in accordance to recommendations made by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

Since the Hubble is in a much different orbit than station, and not near the station at all, specific procedures would need to have been developed specifically for this one shuttle flight so as to offer required levels of safety for the shuttle crew visiting the Hubble.

Had this mission flown, two new pieces of hardware, the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, would have been installed on Hubble. According to the internal memo, some thought will be given as to how to use these instruments on other satellite missions.

Last July a number of scientists gathered to discuss the future of Hubble . This servicing mission was seen as being a way to extend the Hubble’s useful life for 5 or so years until the next generation of space telescopes, the Webb Space Telescope, becomes operational.

This last servicing mission was to extend the life of Hubble to at least 2010. One of the main problems with the telescope are its gyroscopes. Of the six on board, two have failed and the other four remain functional. Three healthy gyroscopes are required to do science with Hubble. NASA estimates presented at the July 2003 meeting suggested that the chance of having three functional gyroscopes in July 2006 as being only 30%.

NASA plans for returning the Hubble are incomplete at this time but would likely involve an automated rocket which would steer the telescope to a fiery death in earth’s atmosphere.

Related Links

  • 16 January 2004: Internal STScI memo
  • Hubble Servicing Mission 4 (SM4), NASA GSFC
  • 31 July 2003: Expected Hubble Space Telescope Science Lifetime After SM4
  • 31 July 2003: NASA Hubble Space Telescope End of Mission (EOM) Options
  • 31 July 2003: NASA Office of Space Science HST-JWST Transition Plan
  • 31 July 2003: NASA Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Missions: An Astronaut’s Perspective
  • 31 July 2003: Increasing Hubble’s Capability with New Instruments
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