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NASA Science

Challenges Ahead In Final Hubble Servicing Mission 130

Hugh Pickens writes "Space shuttle Atlantis is slated to lift off Monday on the fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble with four mission specialists alternating in two-astronaut teams will attempt a total of five spacewalks from Atlantis to replace broken components, add new science instruments, and swap out the telescope's six 125-pound (57-kilogram) batteries, original parts that have powered Hubble's night-side operations for nearly two decades. 'This is our final opportunity to service and upgrade Hubble,' says David Leckrone, senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope. 'So we're replacing some items that are getting long in the tooth to give Hubble longevity, and then we'll try to take advantage of that five- to 10-year extra lifetime with the most powerful instrumental tools we've ever had on board.' Some of the upgrades are relatively straightforward and modular: yank out old part, put in new. But they're big parts: The 'fine guidance sensors' sound delicate but weigh as much as a grand piano back on Earth. But what's different this time is that the astronauts will also open up some instruments and root around inside, doing Geek Squad-like repairs while wearing bulky spacesuits and traveling around the planet at 17,000 mph. 'We have this choreographed almost down to the minute of what we want the crew to do. It's this really fine ballet,' said Keith Walyus, the servicing mission operations manager at Goddard. 'We've been training for this for seven years. We can't wait for this to happen.'"
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Challenges Ahead In Final Hubble Servicing Mission

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  • Uh Oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @08:53AM (#27905077) Journal

    This all sounded good until they said they would be doing "Geek Squad style repairs". Does this mean they will recommend the Norton Anti-virus suite be installed and send a $500 bill?

  • butter fingers (Score:1, Insightful)

    by jaggeh ( 1485669 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @08:55AM (#27905101)
    Lets hope they have a secure hold of their toolbags this time.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday May 11, 2009 @08:57AM (#27905131)

    When you drive on the highway, if you are going 85mph passing a car going 80mph, you only really experience a 5mph velocity differential with that car. Given that both of you are traveling at similar speeds, maneuvering around each other should be relatively simple as you only have to gauge the distances with regard to the 5mph differential and not the 80mph absolute velocity.

    So 17,000mph may sound fast, but given that the satellite itself is traveling the same speed, the astronauts don't really have to think about that.

  • by Agent00Wang ( 146185 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @09:12AM (#27905267) Homepage

    'We've been training for this for seven years. We can't wait for this to happen.'

    Cue heartbreak and disaster.

  • Best of Luck guys (Score:4, Insightful)

    by twiddlingbits ( 707452 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @09:18AM (#27905317)
    This is a heck of an undertaking and I wish the crew all the luck in the world. If something doesn't work or doesn't quite fit it will be interesting to see if NASA has planned workarounds or lets the astronauts engineer on the spot solutions. Duct tape, baling wire and chewing gum have been fully supplied on the STS :) It will be nice to see instrument (WFC3 and COS) upgrades I worked on in 2001-02 finally get installed. I'm not too sure about the 10yrs extra life claim, as some of these upgrades have already been around 5 or more yrs in the powered off state and stored in an inert environment and over time electronics degrade regardless. Last time any of the were powered up was Thermal Test in 2004 so I hope they have done a Power On Self Test before they stashed them on board the STS. I have no idea where this 10 more years of service comes from, as NASA's web site for the mission says "warranty good till 2013" maybe longer. Perhaps this is based on the prior performance of items which far exceeded expectations (See we CAN build good stuff in the USA..just not cheap!) Battery technology has come a long way since the last update so the new batteries should have great power to weight ratio. The upgraded detectors should provide better data gathering but the technology isn't cutting edge as the WFC3 is 2K x 4K (8M) pixels in UV and 1K x1K i(1M) in IR. HST does not operate in the visible light range and images you see are colorized from data gathered from several instruments. Still pretty good data gathering capability and maybe the best we get for a long time as NASA is in such disarry right now who knows if JWST will get up by 2013 as planned.
  • Sure it sounds like an easy swap, but imagine trying to do something like changing dipswitches and installing a PCIe card with ping pong balls on your finger tips - even with big clunky milspec connectors, everything you twist tries to twist you, everything you pull tries to pull you. Arduous work at best, and they are doing five 6 hour sessions. Amazing, truly. I hope they have Story Musgrave available for commentary, the man is a national hero in my opinion.

    ~kulakovich
    • by rts008 ( 812749 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:32AM (#27906409) Journal

      I'm glad to see someone here that 'gets it'.
      One thing everyone seems to gloss over is the fact that you and what you are working on are both 'falling around the earth' at 17,00 mph. It's not like having it on the ground in a garage.
      Your body and mind constantly battling each other over what 'up and down' really are; mass is still mass, so those 'heavy' pieces still take effort to move in-out of position, etc.

      We've already seen that you can't just set your toolbag down on the workbench for one thing...

    • by bit01 ( 644603 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @04:46PM (#27912795)

      Sure it sounds like an easy swap, but imagine trying to do something like changing dipswitches and installing a PCIe card with ping pong balls on your finger tips - even with big clunky milspec connectors, everything you twist tries to twist you, everything you pull tries to pull you.

      You're right, what they're doing is not easy but that's in part due to poor design by the people on the ground. They're sometimes just way too conservative and bureaucratic, and not in a good way, with many design elements.

      As just one example off the top of my head they could've used an unpowered "Canada arm", a light truss where the joints can be tightened and loosened, attached to the telescope to hold them in a fixed position while they're working. Another example is designing replaceable modules and connectors that don't require fine hand coordination. They already do this to a degree but I see no reason why the astronauts should need to use their fingers at all.

      It's easy to understand why the designers are conservative, they only get one chance, however maybe they need to think in terms of good/optimal solutions and fallbacks if they don't work, instead of "this is the one true, will always work not matter what" way.

      I've watched the astronauts working on the ISS and there's a huge amount of bureaucracy and complexity for what should be very simple lego-style plugin-and-leave jobs while on space walks. To put it another way the complexity perhaps should be more in the design work on the ground, not in the procedures to implement the designs in space.

      Reminds me of house design, the last bastion of bespoke, non-factory, non-prefabricated design.

      ---

      Don't be a programmer-bureaucrat; someone who substitutes marketing buzzwords and software bloat for verifiable improvements.

  • by NetNinja ( 469346 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @09:21AM (#27905353)

    Talk about an excitng job! I want to go also! I will carry the tool box :)

    Seriously. :)

  • by Jumperalex ( 185007 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @09:25AM (#27905379)

    I'm curious, can anyone tell me why a good, cheap, quick solution to replacing the current Hubble isn't to take that same design + upgrades that are even too complicated to accomplish in space, and launch it? I mean sure it might not be as spiffy as a completely new blank-sheet design but I have to believe it wouldn't cost that much more money, if at all, than a shuttle launch + a shuttle on standbye as a life boat. I mean what am I missing that makes building Hubble-2 a bad option compared to a risky/costly repair mission? It can't take that long to build another.

    • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @09:47AM (#27905693)

      can anyone tell me why a good, cheap, quick solution to replacing the current Hubble isn't to take that same design + upgrades that are even too complicated to accomplish in space, and launch it?

      You're absolutely right and, ironically, it would cost less to launch it with a non-reusable rocket like the Ariane 5. Unfortunately, real life doesn't work like that.

      The problems is with that "upgrades" thingie. They would never get a team of experts to agree on a sensible list of upgrades and launch that. There would always be one more thing, one more feature and the final cost would be, well, "astronomical" is the only word that comes to my mind.

      Nasa's problem is that they have to be innovative, it's their mission. They can never let good enough alone. If they had just kept making small improvements to their systems, maybe we would have all the space colonies Popular Mechanics predicted fifty years ago by now.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:45AM (#27906695) Homepage Journal

      Yes.
      It is all custom parts it would take years to build a new one so yes it can take that long to build a new one. By that time the Hubble replacement will be ready to launch and the current Hubble will long since be dead. Also it would take a good % of what the Hubble replacement will cost and will not be as good.

      • by Jumperalex ( 185007 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @12:51PM (#27908981)

        custom parts sure, ok, I get that. But, but, but ... there still has to be savings in time and cost to not having to come up with a completely new design, isn't there? I mean take all the time and money spent to spec and design the replacement parts (which are also custom themselves I'm sure), and then to figure out how to do it in space and train the astronauts etc etc etc and instead spend the time and money to spec and design Hubble 2 and launch it with an unmanned. [shrug]

        And for that matter, just how far along is the current replacement?

        I will say this though, I find it amusing that there is all this concern about not having anything up there for some given time frame. I mean yes I know it would leave a lot of people without new data for some time (not that there isn't enough old data to plow through) but let's put this in a cosmic perpective: 1 year, 2, 5, 10 ... is not even a drop in the bucket of time. Somehow I doubt we're going to miss some fleeting once in a universe's-lifetime event that would give us the answer to everything. But I do think it would be a shame not to have something out there collecting the type of data Hubble and its successor collect.

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @02:35PM (#27910669) Homepage Journal

          Not as much as you might think. First of all you will have modify the design. Old suppliers are gone. The standardized parts may have changed so you will have to do some redesign for that. And the big problem is that odds are pretty good that they Hubble design isn't available in SolidWorks, AutoCad, ProE or even IGES format. So it will probably have to be redrawn on a modern CAD system. You will want to completely update all the electronics so those will be different as well.
          About the one only thing you would want to keep unchanged would be the basic structure and maybe the optics. Everything else you would want to update just because it would be cheaper than than trying to rebuild 20 to 30 year old parts.
          The replacement for the Hubble has a much larger collecting mirror and will really out preform the Hubble. http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

    • You cannot just rebuild the Hubble because many of the original contractors are out of business. You would have to rebuild the space telescope from scratch, which involves validating all of the changes you made. Putting it all together along with logistical support costs a few billion dollars. For a frame of reference, Hubble cost $2.5 by 1992.

    • by rgarbacz ( 1450155 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @11:49AM (#27907903)
      As far as I know one of the goals is to attach a deorbit module to Hubble, which is needed to safely end its life, so there has to be this mission anyway. Non of the other existing spacecrafts can perform this task. There were plans to send a robot, but finally they made a bold decision to send humans and repair/improve the telescope besides just solving the problem of a safe deorbitation. And I am thankful for that, the HST served not only the scientific community, but had a great influence in popularizing science as well. The only said thing is that it is too expensive to take it down to a museum, or to send it to a more stable orbit in case in the future the technology is cheap enough to put it in a museum.

      The followers of Hubble are scheduled, and lets hope we will see images they will take soon.
      Besides the JWST there is also the Harschel Space Observatory scheduled to be launch coming days (May 14). It is an infrared telescope with a mirror larger than Hubble.
      I hope everything will be OK with all the space observatories. Those in orbit, and those coming. Their scientific value is astonishing.
  • by DinZy ( 513280 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @09:27AM (#27905401)

    Just curious. How do they know this is the last mission to Hubble. The telescope was supposed to be set out to pasture before and recently got this reprieve. Even if we eventually have a bigger and better space telescope, Hubble is still a valuable instrument.

  • by kannibul ( 534777 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @09:50AM (#27905735)
    So, you mean they'll copy off all the space-porn to a central repository and do nothing?
  • by sherriw ( 794536 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:21AM (#27906215)

    I don't understand why they don't grab Hubble and attach it to the International Space Station? It seems a waste to eventually let a great piece of equipment, into which so much money has been invested, to eventually just drift off into space/crash to earth. Servicing it would be much easier if it was attached to the ISS and we could continue getting stunning images, which I think goes a long way to creating interest in astronomy.

    • by ogre7299 ( 229737 ) <jjtobin&umich,edu> on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:45AM (#27906687)

      Sounds nice but it would not work for a few reason.

      1. The orbits are very different, Hubble is higher and at a different inclination.

      2. The sharp images need excellent stability of the spacecraft. Hubble's resolution of 0.1" is the equivalent to spotting a dime 40 miles away. Astronauts and all the equipment running on the ISS would cause lots ot stability problems for sharp imaging.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:46AM (#27906705)

      A nice thought but unfortunately it would be impossible to prevent vibrations from the ISS blurring every image, no matter how well damped the tether/mount. I do not know but suspect that the ISS is in a lower orbit.

      If they had a Federation style Tractor Beam they could use once a month to keep it localised, that might be a different matter ;-)

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:50AM (#27906787) Homepage Journal

      1. It is in a very different orbit. You just can't call AAA and tow it to the ISS. The shuttle doesn't have the capability to do. No current system has the ability to do it. We would have to build a space tug.
      2. The orbit the ISS is in isn't as good as the one the Hubble is in for doing Astronomy.
      3. You don't want to attach the Hubble to anything since even the motion of people moving around will throw off it's aim.
      4. You don't want all the stuff that comes off and out of the ISS near Hubble. Like the exhaust from it's thrusters.

    • In addition to everyone else's points, and to elaborate on something in the last response - yes, indeed, there is a giant cloud of stuff in orbit with the ISS, whether it is washers, filings, toolbags, thruster exudate, water vapor, dings of micro meteorites, etc. Not an environment we want to put Hubble in.

      ~kulakovich
    • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @01:01PM (#27909149)

      I don't understand why they don't grab Hubble and attach it to the International Space Station? It seems a waste to eventually let a great piece of equipment, into which so much money has been invested, to eventually just drift off into space/crash to earth.

      Nice idea but it's physically impossible to do this with the shuttle. Even with no payload, the fuel required to shift the shuttles orbit when it's at Hubble to be able to rendezvous with the ISS is almost equal to the mass of the space shuttle itself. It simply can't be done. Thats why there's a second shuttle being prepped for launch in case there's a problem with Atlantis - the ISS cannot be used as a safe haven because it cannot reach it.

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:28AM (#27906325) Homepage Journal

    But they're big parts: The 'fine guidance sensors' sound delicate but weigh as much as a grand piano back on Earth.

    Could someone help me convert this into something sane, like Volkswagens or Libraries of Congress?

  • by mkcmkc ( 197982 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @10:34AM (#27906443)

    weigh as much as a grand piano back on Earth

    I'm not a physics expert, but if it weighs as much in orbit as a grand piano does on Earth, wouldn't that give it the mass of, say, the Titanic?

  • Let's hope not.

  • T minus 140 minutes (Score:3, Informative)

    by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @11:41AM (#27907747) Journal
    If you aren't already, follow the mission on the nasa website http://www.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]
  • by monkeySauce ( 562927 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @12:05PM (#27908193) Journal

    They better be careful up there lifting shit like that! I don't know whether OSHA has an jurisdiction in space, but either way those astronauts better be using good team lift practices with those batteries because the last thing we need is for one of them to throw their back out up there!

  • by physburn ( 1095481 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @01:35PM (#27909725) Homepage Journal
    and ten more years of observation from Hubble.

    I'm also hoping that the James Webb Telescope [slashdot.org], Hubbles inferred younger brother, goes to plan, and gets launched on its target 2003.

    -- Astronomy Feed [feeddistiller.com] @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @05:13PM (#27913289) Homepage Journal
    You know, I wanted to comment on this thread, but it's so full of shit already, I can't be bothered. The powers that be have already said that I can choose to not have ads, but that isn't enough anymore. I want them to pay me to participate, as the general state of comments is so bad as to make me walk away silently.

    Why don't you fucking grow up ! Bunch of fucking losers. The funny thing is, you all consider yourselves intelligent - twats. I looked at a thread the other day, and fully 90% of the comments were off-topic. What is the point of having titles to this shit ? May as well say, Oi, prick, and seeing what results. Maybe I've been redirected to science.digg.org ...
  • doing Geek Squad-like repairs while dribbling basketballs and while wearing bulky spacesuits and traveling around the planet at 17,000 mph. Points for behind-the-back dribbling will be awarded.

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