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Space NASA Science

Hubble Camera Lost "For Good" 190

Posted by kdawson
from the blind-eye dept.
Several readers wrote in to tell us, following up on the recent story of the shutting down of Hubble's main camera, that program engineers are now saying that the camera is probably gone for good. The trouble resulted from a short circuit on Saturday in Hubble's most popular instrument, the Advanced Camera for Surveys. NASA engineers reported Monday that most of the camera's capabilities, including the ability to take the sort of deep cosmic postcards that have inspired the public, had probably been lost. We'll be pining for more of those amazing images until the James Webb launches in 2013.
Update: 01/30 23:28 GMT by KD : Reader Involved astronomer wrote in with an addendum / clarification to this story: "I'm a grant-funded astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (www.stsci.edu) in Baltimore. I am very concerned that the article conveys the wrong idea about HST. While HST's science capacity is diminished with the loss of ACS, HST lives on and will continue to produce world-class science, even before its servicing mission in Sept. 2008, which will upgrade the instrument suite with the most sophisticated imagers in history." Read on for the rest of his note.
I'd like to point out these facts:
  1. A fuse blew on ACS side two electronics — This will LIKELY (we're not 100% sure yet) render the Wide-field channel and the High-resolution channel (e.g. 2/3rds of the camera) inoperable. The solar blind channel will likely be returned to operation.
  2. While we have lost (2/3rds) of ACS, NICMOS and WFPC2, two fantastic imagers, are still operational. WFPC2 is responsible for many of the gorgeous images that grace many of your desktop wallpapers.
  3. ACS had an expected lifetime of 5 years. It met that lifetime. The loss of ACS, while of course disappointing, is not necessarily a shock.
  4. Servicing mission 4 is currently scheduled for Sept. 2008. It will upgrade HST to never-before-seen scientific capability and productivity. The Wide-Field Camera 3, which will be installed then, will essentially be an even more sophisticated successor to ACS.
In short, the reports of Hubble's demise are GREATLY exaggerated. She will continue to produce world-class science and incredible images. While we are disappointed with the (apparent) loss of ACS, HST will live on well into the next decade.

You can view one of our press releases on this here: http://hubblesite.org/acs/.
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Hubble Camera Lost "For Good"

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  • while. I'd always post the latest Hubble image as my desktop wallpaper. I'm sure many other people did this too.
  • "We'll be pining for more of those amazing images until the James Webb launches in 2013. "

    I think I can wait...
    • by ogre7299 (229737) <jjtobin@NOspAM.umich.edu> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:20PM (#17820530)
      For those of you that don't know, Hubble still has two working instruments, the Wide Field Planetary Camera (WFPC2) and NICMOS. Both instruments are very capable of still doing good science. In fact, until 2002 the beautiful images we see were mostly from WFPC2, ACS wasn't installed until the last servicing mission. NICMOS is a near-infrared camera and still works fine. I would assume that repairing ACS would be a big priority now since its camera provided the best scientific data.

      For those of you questioning whether or not Hubble should be serviced or just wait for James Webb, you ought to know that Hubble and James Webb will not cover the same wavelengths. Hubble covers UV, visible, and near-infrared. James Webb will cover Near to mid-infrared. James Webb can't do all the science that Hubble can and vice versa. However, ground-based adaptive optics imaging are hoped to be able to provide image quality as good as Hubble by the time it is ready to be retired sometime in the next decade. Also, because of the atmosphere, from the ground, we cannot observe all the infrared wavelengths that James Webb will be able to.
      • Also, because of the atmosphere, from the ground, we cannot observe all the infrared wavelengths that James Webb will be able to.

        But even with ground-based AO and JWST, we will have no access to the UV after Hubble signs off. Although Hubble doesn't do a lot of UV imaging (see GALEX for that), the UV spectroscopy from it has taught us a fantastic amount about the composition, motion, and physical conditions of tons of astronomical objects including nearby interstellar gas and hot stars as well as distant ac
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by StikyPad (445176)
        ground-based adaptive optics imaging are hoped to be able to provide image quality as good as Hubble by the time it is ready to be retired sometime in the next decade.

        I thought the Large Binocular Telescope [arizona.edu] was already doing that, producing images 10 times sharper [wikipedia.org] than Hubble.
      • by kaszeta (322161)
        For those of you that don't know, Hubble still has two working instruments, the Wide Field Planetary Camera (WFPC2) and NICMOS.

        Indeed, having some peripheral involvement with NICMOS (our company designed the replacement cryocooler for it), we get very regular status updates. When the ACS system safed, NICMOS and it's cooling systems went into safe mode as well, but on monday afternoon they restarted the NICMOS cooling system, and, as of yesterday noon, the NICMOS system was almost back down to operating

  • by D'Eyncourt (237843) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:05PM (#17820236)
    Before anyone asks: the upcoming shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope is already booked solid with other work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Trikenstein (571493)
      well, can't they postpone *Do Gerbils Crap Spheres In Zero G?* experiments until a later launch?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by s20451 (410424)
        Now we'll never know if ants can sort tiny screws in space!
      • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:51PM (#17821010)
        They're less likely to send a second mission to Hubble because of safety. From whats publicly available, it was hard to convince the safety guys to agree to one mission without the possibility of the ISS as a lifeboat. Also I think all planned launches except the Hubble repair are ISS construction launches.

        I do wonder about that Hubble repair launch. Their not big on changing mission profiles significantly, and I'm certainly no expert on what they're doing to it, but it seems that some of the repairs may not be worthwhile if that camera is down, or if they might decided that not doing as much (i.e. letting it die sooner) but replacing the camera might be worth it. But like I said, I don't know much about how the Hubble works and what the current repair plans are.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          The upcoming Hubble Servicing Mission already has two new science instruments on the manifest: the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3, a replacement for the venerable Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 - WFPC2) and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS). WFC3 wasn't intended to be a replacement for the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), but the new instrument should be able to do much of the imaging science that is now lost with the ACS visible-wavelength detectors down.

          Information on the Hubble Servicing Mission can be
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          The rest of the Hubble Telescope is still working. We want the parts that are still working to be maintained: they served us well for twenty years, so we might as well squeeze a little more out of them.
          Better just the ACS than the whole telescope.
          And hey, if we're fortunate, they might put in another nice camera in 2008 to hold everyone over until that infrared one gets launched. They can make time for it--this was clearly a well-loved camera, and the people and science boards have some voice.
          I really
  • Webb in 2013? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:06PM (#17820252) Homepage
    Riiiiight. Like Shuttle in '79? Or Alpha in '95? Or how about Hubble in '86? *sigh*
    • by forand (530402)
      Sure it is funny but it is also true. Funding for science has decreased within NASA with the change in focus towards a manned mission to Mars. While only temporary, hopefully, the US budget being only a continuing resolution means that the people researching technology for James Web will have to spend more time finding funding or not work on the project till funding increases.

      With all the people excited about the images that Hubble has given us, let alone the science, hopefully some will begin to reali
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dirtside (91468)
      Well, you've named three NASA projects that ended up running late. Now, can you name three which went live as originally scheduled?

      Now that you've done that, can you explain your point?
      • Can you name three NASA long term projects that ran on schedule since the 70s?

        Seriously.

        Name them.

        And small Mars missions don't count. I'm talking about things that cost at least a billion and were scheduled for 5 plus years in the future. The fact is, 99% of the time, if you can't build it in 5 years, you basically can't build it at all without some breakthrough happening. NASA's planning teams always assume that sometime in the next 10 years we'll learn how to use unobtanium to keep the cost of the heat s
  • by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:08PM (#17820280) Homepage
    We'll be pining for more of those amazing images until the James Webb launches in 2013.

    Will those images be of the fjords?
  • Could the NSA help? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yellowbkpk (890493) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:13PM (#17820382)
    What if the NSA pointed one of their old drifting recon birds the wrong way and refocused it a few million light years from here?

    I realize the optics aren't set up to do far-field imaging, but maybe it'd be cheaper and quicker than waiting to fix the Hubble?
    • by p_trekkie (597206) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:46PM (#17820944) Homepage
      What if the NSA pointed one of their old drifting recon birds the wrong way and refocused it a few million light years from here?

      I realize the optics aren't set up to do far-field imaging, but maybe it'd be cheaper and quicker than waiting to fix the Hubble?


      An intriguing idea. However, I don't think it will work. The focus would not be the major issue though, as the difference in focussing between 500km and 500pc is relatively minor.

      I suspect the main issue would be noise. Hubble's CCDs were specifically designed to have the lowest possible noise, whereas in the case of an NSA satellite, they have so much more signal from Earth (>1000x) than from the next dimmest thing in the solar system that the system might not be physically capable of taking the necessary long exposures. However, they might be able to do some sort of astronomy with a series of stacked images, much as is done with web cam astronomy. [navy.mil] Anyway, just some thoughts... there are probably other reasons it hasn't been done yet that I haven't thought of yet....
      • by kindbud (90044)
        These spacecraft are probably incapable of tracking celestial objects even with a remote software update (if that's even possible), because they lack the fine guidance sensors Hubble uses to lock onto stars and track the target accurately over the course of a long exposure, which may last many orbits.
      • I may be out of date here - but aren't spy satellites in highly ellipical orbits so they can get down low and actually resolve objects the size of vehicles in the visable wavelength? The problem with this is relatively short lifespans due to actually touching atmosphere at the low point of the orbit - which also prevents them from using large solar arrays for power (air resistance in the far upper atmosphere would be enough to require heavy supports for the arrays). They need relatively large amounts of f
    • No, they couldn't. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Eevee (535658)

      Mainly because NSA doesn't have any cameras up there. You're thinking of NGA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency [wikipedia.org].

    • I propose we just throw cameraphones into the air really hard, so they get into orbit.
    • by Rick.C (626083)
      Technical issues aside, it would be 30 years before the images could be de-classified.
  • and yet... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lord_Slepnir (585350)
    This nation has a serious priority issue. If even a small fraction of the money we're throwing away on Iraq were to go to things like space exploration, we'd probably have a fleet of Hubbles up there watching our first Mars landing. I'd blame this on the politicians, but someone had to vote them in. Maybe when China puts a man on Mars ahead of us will we wake up and start doing our part to advance the human race, even if it's for the wrong reason.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:18PM (#17820480) Homepage Journal

    From The Beeb [bbc.co.uk]:

    Hubble is due to receive a new camera during a planned servicing mission by space shuttle in 2008.

    This should recover all of the capability lost in the latest failure.

    "The successful completion of [the shuttle mission] and insertion of Wide Field Camera-3 (WFC3) will take us fully back to not only where we are now, but where we want [the telescope] to be in the future," said David Leckrone, Nasa's senior project scientist on Hubble.

    So uh, WTF? Who is right? Will this camera be replaced in 2008, or not?

    • by SpaceLifeForm (228190) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:30PM (#17820678)
      It's all a 'GO', they are just waiting for a floppy to update the firmware.

      • by CODiNE (27417)
        Just waiting for someone to push that floppy in all the way and press the little red button.
    • The original fine article also mentioned the new camera. Therefore, there will be a new camera.
    • WTF? Who is right? Will this camera be replaced in 2008, or not?

      No, stop, relax, you're both right. There is a mission planned for 2008 but it will never happen.

    • by kindbud (90044)
      So uh, WTF? Who is right? Will this camera be replaced in 2008, or not?

      The new WFC3 will be installed in place of the now-inoperative Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) instrument. The ACS was never scheduled or expected to be replaced.
      • The new WFC3 will be installed in place of the now-inoperative Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) instrument.

        WFC3 replaces WFPC2.

        COS (UV spectroscopy) replaces COSTAR (the original optics fix package; all the new instruments have this correction built in).

        STIS will have an attempted repair to get it going again. It's a tough job, but we astro spectral-types have our fingers crossed.
  • STS-125 [wikipedia.org] is scheduled to launch in 2008, and is supposed to be conducting the final service mission. Don't think there has been any official word yet on fixing/replacing the camera yet though, but it would seem wasteful not to, unless they just decide to scrub the mission.
    • “There is sufficient light for those who desire to see, & there is sufficient darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

      That’s normally attributed to Pensees 149, but in all the lists of his Pensees, I see something differnet written. <shrug> it’s the one I like.
  • service it quick (Score:4, Informative)

    by gsn (989808) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @05:39PM (#17820832)
    Yes this is very sad but even without ACS Hubble still has WFP2 and NICMOS so its entirely worth servicing it because it can still do bleeding edge science. I don't think there is much hope for servicing ACS. Most of the large ground based telescopes come equipped with atmospheric dispersion correctors (two fancy counter-rotating prisms) and Shack-Hartmann sensors and these along with the larger primary make up a lot of the difference for some science purposes, though ACS will be sorely missed and soon. HST proposals were due recently so they'll probably extend the call for proposals by a few weeks but there will be a lot of unhappy folks who will have to go back to the drawing board so to speak and start from scratch.

    If you still want pretty pictures for your desktop - this is not really the point but its astronomy for the soul which is very important - then theres a fairly large collection of ACS images http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/frees earch/acs/viewall/1 [spacetelescope.org] and you can get some pretty stunning images from the ground with relatively small telescopes - some of the bigger names in astrophotography like Robert Gendler, Neil Fleming, Ron Wodawski do some stunning stuff.
  • I read in an article on yahoo news, which I cannot find right now, that some of hubble's electrical shorts may have been related to debris floating in space. Is the HST in the same orbit as the satellite that China recently blew up?
  • ..to Hubble, it's merely its successor by NASA. I think it should be stressed that they are different kind of telescopes, James Webb is supposed to be an infrared only telescope whereas Hubble is UV, optical and near-infrared.
    Far to often people speak about James Webb as the ultimate replacement for Hubble. However the optical and UV bands will be lost without it.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @06:14PM (#17821304) Journal
    ...but the excitement of seeing some of those pictures can't compare with what I felt when I first saw this pair of galaxies [nasa.gov] and the Orion Nebula [nasa.gov] with my own eyes in my shiny new low cost ($300) 8" reflector (even if they didn't look as spectacular as in those pictures I linked to).
    • my shiny new low cost ($300) 8" reflector

      Oh, c'mon, if it's a great telescope, at least pimp it here. Amazon link with associates id welcomed.
  • The news conspicuously avoided any mention of China and the cloud of junk China sent shooting through space right before all these satellites failed.

    MSNBC said the ACS was the primary producer of data since 2002 and it could not be replaced in a single repair mission. MSNBC also said it failed 2 months short of its 5 year mission. People like MSNBC. They like Keith Olbermann. They trust Keith Olbermann more than their own eyes. MSNBC gave quite a bleaker picture than the funded astronomer.

    The real fear
    • by lxt518052 (720422)
      The news conspicuously avoided any mention of China and the cloud of junk China sent shooting through space right before all these satellites failed.

      Pointing figers before even remote evidence supports an accusation against someone would hurt the credibility of any decent press, don't you think so?

      Politicians in Washington seemed to developed a habbit. When anything bad happens, they always find a way to blame China or someone who's not likely to defend themselves before the general US public. To suppor

  • Fuse Blew? (Score:4, Funny)

    by cmacb (547347) on Tuesday January 30, 2007 @07:21PM (#17822050) Homepage Journal
    Man oh man, they should have used a circuit breaker instead of a fuse. I'd hate to get up there with a bag of those little fuses and find out I had to go back to the service station for the right one.

    • by dodongo (412749)
      Yeah, it's bad enough to have to drive 350 relatively-horizontal miles to get a part for something. I can't imagine having to go 350 relatively-vertical ones.
    • I know NASA engineers are Star Trek fans, but did they have to copy everything from the Star Trek universe. I mean, it's cool to see an Ensign fried when a power surge hits the bridge, but isn't this taking Star Trek too far. ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Brannigan: "What the hell is that thing?"

    Kif: "It appears to be the mothership"

    Brannigan: "Then what did we just blow up?"

    Kif: "The Hubble Telescope"
  • Hubble is just one thing that space exploration have provided marginal benefits for us, other than unintended consequences of new materials discovered while doing the research.

    It provided unfathomable, invaluable insight to our own universe - take note of this, the universe word here is not some metaphor, synonym, acronym or any crap for anything - it is the REAL thing, what we exist in.

    while squandering hoards of taxpayer dollars for crap that not worth, you nasa can neglect maybe the single scientif
  • It's very misleading to call WFC3 a successor to ACS. The NIR channel of WFC3 will be a significant upgrade over NICMOS in terms of throughput and field of view (and resolution, compared to NIC3). However, the UVis channel is clearly a compromise between the capabilities of the Wide-Field and High-Resolution channels of ACS, and as such it really can't compete with either (except insomuch as they're dead and it isn't).

    WFC3/UVis is a clear step down on high-resolution imaging because the 40 mas pixels of

  • We'll be pining for more of those amazing images until the James Webb launches in 2013.

    You'll be pining a lot longer than that. The James Webb telescope will operate in the infrared spectrum. It won't take "visible" pictures, although the pictures can probably be colorized afterwards.
  • I knew it! We should have purchased the extended service agreement. Just as the warranty runs out it breaks.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"

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