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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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  • Hypocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarkRose (820682) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:36AM (#26914305) Homepage

    They'll send tens of thousands of young men (and women) overseas to be shot at and kill others, but not risk seven lives to fucking further humanity and human knowledge?

    I don't get it.

  • Re:hmm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:37AM (#26914313)

    putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.

    The spacecraft would have trouble getting off the ground. That's even worse than uneconomical.

    some kind of automated space cleaner that went around removing debris - but we had no idea how that could possibly work or be designed

    The problem with this is - if that "cleaner" gets hit by debris, you've just added to the problem instead of reducing it.

    pre-emptive removal of dead satalites (no, not shooting them down from earth - attaching small moters to send them into the atmosphere) - maybe steering them into a declining orbit as the last thing they do before swithing them off

    That would have been a way to keep the problem in check, and it's being done with some satellites. But usually whoever puts satellites up there is too cheap to worry about disposal, since by the time it becomes a problem, they're most likely not around anymore and don't have to worry. Yay, just let the following generations clean up the crap, just like with everything else.

  • Re:Hypocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Davemania (580154) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:43AM (#26914347) Journal
    It's easier to bury dead solider story at back of the newspaper than it is about dead astronauts orbiting around earth.
  • Re:hmm. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:44AM (#26914355)

    1) - there is moderately workable impact shielding developed for satellites/space craft which consists of plates separated by gaps which spread out the kinetic energy of debris and has been proven effective against small impacts.

    2) "space cleaning" could easily be done by deploying some large engineered dragnet style objects into the path of the debris. Obviously careful engineering would have to be used to assure collisions dont cause pieces to splash from the dragnet, but I think its quite doable.

    3) we already track space debris down to very small levels. Currently nasa have maps of these pieces, down to the size of a screw if I remember correctly.

    4) this is often done already, at least by government agencies. Private companies are another matter, but i've never heard of a private satellite going completely out of use.

    5) we may as well just nuke it all now if we don't establish extra-terrestrial colonies. Colonization of space is the next logical step for a species which develops intelligence, and if we don't continue down that path we are a dead-end branch waiting to be pruned from the tree of life.

  • Re:Hypocracy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:06AM (#26914467)

    NASA doesn't employ as many people as military industrial complex-> Bad public relations are less tolerable as a budget consideration.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:14AM (#26914493)
    To the best of the public knowledge (DoD has the best picture of what's out there, and they don't share that publicly), nothing that's being tracked is a threat. The two satellites were, and the cores and fragments visible to amateurs remain, respectably clear of Hubble's orbit.

    However, there is some concern that stuff could have been knocked off in other directions, or be big enough to be a concern but still small enough to have sufficiently decayed in orbit to be a risk. From following discussions that have included NASA engineers, it doesn't sound to me like this is realistically expected to affect the decision to fly.

    Unless something truly serious and unexpected crops up, the Hubble servicing mission isn't going to be canceled. The only reason it hasn't happened already is the computer fault that led them to delay it while preparing a replacement computer for the mission. It wouldn't save any money, although it would free up one more shuttle flight with minimal cost to re-assign to the ISS. After Griffin reinstated the servicing mission, though, NASA has been pretty consistent in its desire to complete it.
  • by tg123 (1409503) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:36AM (#26914589)

    I can read between the lines ....

    Nasa does not want to fix the Hubble as there budgets have been cut. They want to put the money for fixing the Hubble into something else.

    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.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_optics [wikipedia.org] http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/adaptive_optics991006.html [space.com]

    Why spend money and risk peoples lives on technology that is obsolete ?

  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:48AM (#26914645)

    If we learn to live in our existing environment without making it unusable, and adapt to its changes, we've succeeded.

    The current environment is transitory. And eventually over geological time, it will change in a way that cannot be adapted to. Plus, it's worth noting that most species (including humans) that exist now do so precisely because they have repeatedly expanded their range.

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @07:29AM (#26914819)

    Living in better balance with our environment and within our resources will not save us from a space rock or plague, off-world colonies will, and that's my point.

    The main evolutionary trait of human beings is technology, and we are in a unique position to do this, which would set us on the road to the eventually disentanglement of our survival with that of one small planet.

    If we fail to do this, then a global catastrophe will eventually happen which outstrips our technology and render us extinct.

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:44AM (#26915133) Homepage

    An earth devastated by an asteroid is still a much more friendly place to live on then either Moon or Mars. Self sustaining off-world colonies won't happen for many many years to come.

  • by Cassander (251642) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:47AM (#26915149)

    (5) just abandoning the whole outer space game anyhow and using a vast fiber optic ring on the surface for communication needs

    The real problem here is that we're wasting *vast* amounts of orbital space with competing projects that don't share information with each other. There's more than plenty of room for *one* satellite network. But every little war-happy industrialized nation and every communications company and mapping company, etc., needs their own personal network clogging the sky.

    Until we, as a species, get a little better at this "cooperation" thing and stop with the in-fighting, the debris field is just going to get worse and make space exploration difficult. (That might even be a good thing for any neighbors we might have.)

    Sadly, I don't foresee this happening any time soon.

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:51AM (#26915161) Homepage Journal

    1. NASA has a limited number of astronauts.

    2. NASA has a limited number of shuttles.

    3. The public has very little stomach for "yet another NASA accident"

    4. There are far too many in Congress who see the NASA manned program as a waste of money (in other words that money could buy pools and libraries named after Congressmen!)

    5. Comparing any item to Iraq expenditures does not bolster your argument, if anything a parrot would suffice.

    Why not compare it to the fact we are willing to lose nearly FORTY THOUSAND people to vehicle deaths. The number of soldiers we lose in Iraq while deplorable by any count is minuscule compared to any other war of that scale let alone the deaths at home from stuff that should not happen in the first place.

  • by Cassander (251642) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:57AM (#26915191)

    The idea that we must colonise space to validate our existence is a religion, not science.

    The way I look at it, we are the reproductive system for the entire biosphere. If we don't colonize other planets around different stars (let alone other rocks around this one) then all of Gaia* has failed, not just one little species.

    * Please note I do not actually personify "Gaia", I just use it as a convenient and poetic label for the entire interconnected biosphere.

  • by michrech (468134) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @09:35AM (#26915479)

    Especially with *that* attitude!

    An earth devastated by an asteroid is still a much more friendly place to live on then either Moon or Mars. Self sustaining off-world colonies won't happen for many many years to come.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @09:38AM (#26915519) Homepage Journal

    The way I look at it, we are the reproductive system for the entire biosphere.

    You know, I think this is a very apt comparison.

    Like reproducive organs, especially the testes mammals, we enact extensive changes on the whole planet; not all of which are beneficial. Yet, we're the one big hope for reproduction; so almost ANYTHING is worth it. If we do relocated, odds are we'll take a big chunk of the rest of the biosphere with us.

    After that, it breaks down a bit; Gaia is neither male or female. ;)

  • by Benfea (1365845) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @09:56AM (#26915687)
    Perhaps he phrased it badly, but I think what he meant to say is that having humans on more than one planet enhances our survivability greatly, which [b]does[/b] affect us from the standpoint of evolution.
  • by DingerX (847589) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @10:32AM (#26916139) Journal
    Yeah, but however transitory it is, it's far better suited to us than anything space has to offer. Seriously, any "changes over geological time" that occur are small change compared to the cost of terraforming. Or, put another way, it will take far less energy, logistics and ingenuity to maintain a human-habitable planet than to evolve one. Likewise, it will take far less genetic monkeying to keep our species compatible with this planet's environment than to adapt to that of another planet.

    So, fine, seek to colonize other worlds, if that's what your religion says. But recognize that if we can't sustain our existence over Earthbound environmental changes, there's no way we can do it on another planet.
  • by FTWinston (1332785) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @11:09AM (#26916643) Homepage
    The visible & UV channels of the Advanced Camera for Surveys have been out of operation since january 07, when its backup electronics died.
    Hubble was originally intended to operate with 3 functional gyros at all times, but since 2005 has been operating on 2-gyro mode, to extend its useful lifetime in the face of continuing gyro failure. This limits the area of the sky it can view, and makes precise measurements more difficult. Only 3 of its 6 gyros remain functional, and 2 of these are in continual use just maintaining sub-par orientation.
    And of course, we all know that the primary command & data handling unit died last year.
    All of this information is readily available wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

    So its main camera is broke, it can't point itself properly, the data handling hardware is broke, the batteries are failing, and there's half a dozen less important things that haev also either failed completely (eg the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph) or partially.
    That doesn't come under my definition of 'fine'
  • Re:hmm. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 19, 2009 @11:17AM (#26916757)

    putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.

    The spacecraft would have trouble getting off the ground. That's even worse than uneconomical.

    You could do a couple meters of foam for pretty cheap and light. It would be pretty good at slowing down the smaller chucks.

    Bigger stuff would still be a problem, but you are talking about railgun speeds. Even a hard and heavy shield isn't going to be too great at stopping a pound of metal closing at Mach 8.

  • by MrKaos (858439) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @11:36AM (#26917061) Journal

    Why does everyone believe that we should be destined to walk this universe forever?

    Because we can ;-)

  • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @11:56AM (#26917423)
    You misunderstand life. His point is a valid one: if our existence depends on earth, then at some point our existence will end when earth changes enough that we can't adapt.

    If we learn to live in our existing environment without making it unusable, and adapt to its changes, we've succeeded.

    We've only succeeded in continuing our dependence on something that the fossil record show isn't dependable. Add into it our own lack of dependability and we've got a major problem.

    The idea that we must colonise space to validate our existence is a religion, not science.

    Not to validate, just to extend and guarantee. We've spread from Africa and put ourselves into every place and biome on the earth, making it so that a catastrophe would have to be global to destroy the species. The next step in making sure the species continues would be to make it so that even a global catastrophe wouldn't be able to destroy the human race.

  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @01:44PM (#26918983)

    It depends on the time scale. Yes we WILL be a dead end unless we leave the Earth but we have a billion years (more or less) before we are forced to leave. So if we explore space now or wait 10,000 years it makes little difference. On the cosmic scale 10,000 years is "nothing".

    We will eventually learn to live on Earth in a sustainable, stable way.

  • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv.gmail@com> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @02:11PM (#26919401) Homepage

    If you want something to cover the length (122.17 ft) and wingspan (78.06 ft) of the shuttle (I'm assuming the tube like device will have a squarish face to it) enough water to fill a 6 inch sheet would be 4768.2951 cubic feet of water! A gallon is .133680555 cubic feet, so that's 35,669.3259 gallons! A gallon of water is 8.33 pounds! That results in 297125.484 lbs. You want to add nearly 150 tons to the shuttle lift off? The shuttle only weighs 120 already! Sure, I'm not including for the fact that water expands when it freezes, but it's not like I can take a keg of water into space and expand it into a 125x80 foot shield.

    And if the shield gets hit by something hard enough, it will shatter into shards that don't melt, and become just as deadly at the debris.

    And how do you fill a tube like that without having the water instafreeze? Would your pump hoses not freeze? Would the water not freeze in the tube? Do you expect to keep the tube heated until the water is frozen, and if so how do you do that?

    Are my calculations off or did you get modded up even a little for a completely crazy idea?

  • by danaris (525051) <`moc.cam' `ta' `siranad'> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:43PM (#26922191) Homepage

    Frankly, I don't see any of the major extinction events of the geological past being something the human race couldn't survive.

    I would generally tend to agree—however, it is very important to make the distinction between the human race and human civilization.

    Dan Aris

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