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Space Science

Hubble Repair Mission At Risk 224

Posted by samzenpus
from the someone-take-out-the-space-trash dept.
MollyB writes "According to Wired, the recent collision of satellites may put the Atlantis shuttle mission to repair Hubble in the 'unacceptable risk' status: 'The spectacular collision between two satellites on Feb. 10 could make the shuttle mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope too risky to attempt. Before the collision, space junk problems had already upped the Hubble mission's risk of a "catastrophic impact" beyond NASA's usual limits, Nature's Geoff Brumfiel reported today, and now the problem will be worse. Mark Matney, an orbital debris specialist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas told the publication that even before the collision, the risk of an impact was 1 in 185, which was "uncomfortably close to unacceptable levels" and the satellite collision "is only going to add on to that."'"
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Hubble Repair Mission At Risk

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  • No, it's not the end (Score:2, Informative)

    by Bearhouse (1034238) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:32AM (#26914287)

    Firstly, Hubble is working fine. Secondly, FTA "NASA spokeswoman, Beth Dickey, would not specifically comment on whether or not the collision had created elevated risk for the Hubble repair mission.

    "What we've told everyone is that there is an elevated risk to virtually any satellite in low-earth orbit," Dickey said. "As far as NASA's assets are concerned, that risk is considered to be very small. I have not seen or heard anything that would lead me to think differently."

  • Kessler Syndrome (Score:5, Informative)

    by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:34AM (#26914291)

    It's been mentioned before, but this could be the beginning of kessler syndrome [wikipedia.org], and worldwide space agencies might need to deploy junk removal solutions.

  • by FTWinston (1332785) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:36AM (#26914309) Homepage

    Firstly, Hubble is working fine.

    Eh, no. Its practically dead. Thats why every delay to this service mission is so critical - if another couple of gyros go, it won't even be able to orient itself well enough to allow the astronauts to get up close. As it is, most of its main instruments are currently out of action.

  • Re:Soak up debris? (Score:3, Informative)

    by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:28AM (#26914557) Homepage

    That's what I thought, but apparently what happens is that the fragment shatters, and most of the pieces carry on at almost the same velocity, while just a few are significantly slowed. Essentially your impactor drills a hole through the fragment almost instantly, slowing down only the material actually excavated from the hole. Later, the shock waves propagate sideways through the fragment, shattering it.

    Result, more orbiting fragments (albeit smaller ones).

  • Re:hmm. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Big Hairy Ian (1155547) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:53AM (#26914671)
    Obviously you can't but you can attract them once you have enough bits slow down enough that they will re-enter in a couple of years, ditch them and speed up again. The only problem is the amount of fuel it would take to do this a few times.
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @07:17AM (#26914767)

    The Hubble is also Obsolete due to new technologies like Adaptive optics that allow ground based telescopes to achieve the same clarity as the Hubble.

    You can pull as many adaptive whatchamacallits out of the signal processing toolbox, but that doesn't change the simple fact that certain wavelengths will be absorbed by the atmosphere before they even get to your ground-based telescopes.

  • You can pull as many adaptive whatchamacallits out of the signal processing toolbox, but that doesn't change the simple fact that certain wavelengths will be absorbed by the atmosphere before they even get to your ground-based telescopes.

    Certainly true, which is part of the reason newer space scopes focus on things like X ray or IR observation, rather than visible wavelengths. But, even at visible wavelengths, a space telescope can do some things a ground scope can't, like take a continuous week long exposure. A ground based scope can compensate somewhat with a bigger mirror, and thus accomplish a similar shot in a shorter exposure, but it just can't manage that kind of continuous observation. (And, to take a week long exposure with a ground based scope, you'd basically need three weeks worth of observation time, because you can't see that star you want during the day, or when it is obscured by trees near the horizon, etc.

  • by Zhiroc (909773) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:09AM (#26914975)
    The collision happened at almost a right angle (see this diagram [nasa.gov]). As I understand it, the two satellites basically exploded into debris. While the center of mass of the cloud is mostly following a new trajectory based on the previous orbits, this cloud is probably expanding quickly in many directions. Many pieces were probably kicked out of the mostly circular orbits into highly elliptical ones, and therefore, could have apogees much higher than their original orbit.
  • by Shag (3737) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:31AM (#26915079) Homepage

    Just as a data point, it cost something like a billion (1990) dollars to put Hubble into orbit, and over the life of the program, I think they're talking something like 6 billion total (including salaries for the folks who operate it and every other conceivable expense).

    Hubble's primary mirror is about 2.4 meters. There's currently a proposed project to build a thirty-meter terrestrial telescope, either in Hawaii or Chile, for about $1 billion.

    Launch costs are a b*tch, yes.

  • Re:Hypocracy (Score:3, Informative)

    by diskis (221264) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:55AM (#26915181)

    I have a little feeling that the army is spending more on hardware than NASA.
    Space shuttle, 1.7B$ each, 5 pcs built = 8.5B$
    B2 bomber, 737M$ each, 20 pcs built = 14.7B$

    And at costs like that for hardware, training of astronauts / soldiers is fairly neglible.

  • Why ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by smoker2 (750216) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @09:41AM (#26915539) Homepage Journal
    Take a look at this image [universetoday.com] and tell me the problem is really that much worse.

The flow chart is a most thoroughly oversold piece of program documentation. -- Frederick Brooks, "The Mythical Man Month"

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