Ask ARSE: How Hardy is the Hubble?

Ask ARSE: How Hardy is the Hubble?

We have an interesting question from a dedicated reader, so let's go ahead and "Ask ARSE".

"Hi ARSE, 
I was wondering how often the Hubble Telescope needs repairs and maintenance? Has it ever been upgraded? Thanks"

- Tony, 47

No, thank you, Tommy.

For those that are not as familiar with the Hubble as they should be, it is a large telescope in space that is unhindered by the warp of the atmosphere of our planet. 

 The Hubble Telescope

The Hubble was launched in 1990 at a production cost of $1.5 billion in 1990 (approximately $2.90 billion in 2019.)

It is as large as a bus and weighs as much as two fully grown elephants while it travels in orbit around Earth at speeds a little over 8km/s.

Hubble can peer into space to see galaxies trillions of miles away.

This allows the telescope to view images of the universe that were unimaginable before its time.

Bright Star Nebula

Although it is technically a telescope, it takes photos of the deep unknown almost the same as the camera on your phone. 

The Hubble hasn't truly broken down before, but it has been upgraded and had diagnostic checks of the hardware at the same time to keep it optimal and functional. 

There are five instances of the Hubble Telescope having to be serviced.

  1. In 1993, a corrective optics package was installed, and the Wide Field Planetary Camera was replaced with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (including an internal optical correction system.) The computers were upgraded. The astronauts also replaced solar arrays, gyroscopes, magnetometers, computers and other equipment. 

  2. Servicing Mission 2 - STS-82, February 1997: Among other tasks, astronauts installed the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), replacing the GHRS and the FOS. An unexpected problem with NICMOS shortened its expected lifespan to only 2 years, less than half of initial projections.

  3. Servicing Mission 3A - STS-103, December 1999: The third servicing mission was divided into two parts after three of the six gyroscopes (pointing devices) failed on Hubble. Just a few weeks before 3A lifted off, a fourth gyroscope failed and left the telescope unable to point in the right direction for observations. 3A replaced all the gyroscopes, a fine guidance sensor and the computer, among other tasks. The mission put Hubble back in service shortly after the repairs were completed.

  4. Servicing Mission 3B - STS-109, March 2002: This mission installed the Advanced Camera for Surveys (replacing the FOC), repaired NICMOS and replaced the solar arrays.

  5. Servicing Mission 4: Servicing Mission 4 - STS-125, May 2009: This mission was at first scheduled for February 2005, but NASA cancelled it after the Columbia shuttle was damaged during launch and broke up during re-entry in 2003, killing seven astronauts. Hubble is in a different orbit than the International Space Station. Should a shuttle be damaged upon liftoff, there was no safe haven for astronauts to retreat to in case of emergency. However, following an outcry from Congress, the scientific community and the public, the Hubble mission was reinstated and scheduled for 2008. When one of Hubble's data-handling units failed, the mission was pushed back to 2009 to include a replacement part for that, too. The astronauts on Mission 4 repaired or replaced several systems and installed two new instruments: Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.

The Hubble Telescope

The most recent trip to the Hubble will, unfortunately, be the last, as a bigger and better version is in production named the James Webb Space Telescope that will orbit our Sun in a spot on the other side of our moon.

This will allow the James Webb to filter in a different type of light than the Hubble and give us access to even more of the universe. 

For a more in-depth look at the life of the Hubble telescope, see this informative video below.


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