Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Hobbled Hubble on a Wing and a Prayer

HST Has Provided Humankind With A New View of the Universe

Hubble Space Telescope's main ACS wide field camera has gone dead, and it looks like it won't be revived until a planned maintenance mission in 2008. This from Space.Com

It was Hubble’s ACS camera’s wide field channel, for example, that allowed astronomers to generate Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field – the deepest view into the universe to date. But that ACS channel, and a high-resolution channel used to study stars surrounded by planet-forming material, are likely lost since the latest glitch has cut off power to their systems, Hubble managers said.

“We’re not optimistic at all that those will be restored,” said David Leckrone, NASA’s senior project scientist for Hubble at the GSFC. “The saving grace here is that we have a superb new wide field camera coming along that was originally designed, in fact, to be a back up for ACS in case ACS failed. It was designed to work in tandem with ACS if [it] was full alive.”

HST's other cameras are working, but the loss of the main wide field camera reduces Hubble's abilities significantly.

HST - Cone Nebula
A fourth service mission using the Space Shuttle is planned for 2008. The service mission entails five space walks to install a new wide field camera, gyroscopes, sensors, and batteries. However no plan yet exist to replace the now dead ACS. This from NASA.Gov

"It is too early to know what influences the ACS anomaly may have on Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission-4 planning" said Preston Burch, associate director/program manager for the Hubble Space Telescope. "It is important that the review board conduct a thorough investigation that will allow us to determine if there are any changes needed in the new instruments that will be installed on the upcoming servicing mission so that we can be sure of maximizing the telescope's scientific output. We are continuing to make excellent progress in our preparations for the servicing mission, which is presently targeted to fly in September 2008."

Let's hope NASA's Service Mission Four planning group decides to add servicing the ACS wide field camera to its SM4 in 2008! In my opinion the Hubble Space Telescope has benefited humankind by broadening our understanding, and appreciation of the place we all call home - the Universe. The HST has been worth every penny of taxpayer money spent which is more than we can say for most government funded programs.
Photo Credits
HubbleSite.Org Public Domain Images

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