Hubble’s Final Servicing Mission
NASA has announced that the final repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope will be conducted in August, marking the fifth and final mission to service the telescope. (UPDATE 5-12-09: The mission was postponed, and launched May 11, 2009). The repair will include the installation of two new science instruments: a spectrograph to probe the “cosmic web,” and a camera that generates images over a wide field of view and range of colors. These instruments will give Hubble the means to explore the nature and history of our universe much more efficiently while extending the telescope’s orbital life.
The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph will handle the ultraviolet range of the spectrum and replace the current Imaging Spectrograph to explore how the cosmic web has evolved and the role it plays in the formation and evolution of galaxies. The second instrument, called the Wide Field of View Camera 3, will be the first instrument on Hubble that can scan everything from the ultraviolet to the infrared. It will serve to map the history of the universe.
Other repairs to the telescope will include installing batteries, thermal blankets, and a new set of gyroscopes that help stabilize the telescope, and possibly replacing a Fine Guidance Sensor.
From NASA’s press release:
“Our goal for this mission is to leave Hubble at the apex of its scientific capabilities,” said David Leckrone, Hubble senior project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “Our two new instruments, plus the hoped-for repairs of STIS and ACS, will give astronomers a full ‘tool box’ with which to attack some really profound problems, ranging from the nature of dark matter and dark energy, to the chemical composition of the atmospheres of planets around other stars.”
The new equipment is scheduled to lift off on the Space Shuttle Atlantis for an 11-day mission that will feature five space walks to repair the telescope. Scientists are hopeful that the repairs will extend the operational life of Hubble until at least 2013, when the James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to be deployed. (See “NASA’s Next Telescope.”)
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