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News from the National Academies
Date: Dec. 8, 2004
Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Christian Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Space Shuttle Should Conduct Final Servicing Mission
To Hubble Space Telescope

WASHINGTON -- To ensure continuation of the extraordinary scientific output of the Hubble Space Telescope and to prepare for its eventual de-orbiting, NASA should send a space shuttle mission, not a robotic one, says a new congressionally requested report from the National Academies' National Research Council. The agency should consider launching the manned mission as early as possible after the space shuttle is deemed safe to fly again, because some of the telescope's components could degrade to the point where it would no longer be usable or could not be safely de-orbited, said the committee that wrote the report.

"A shuttle servicing mission is the best option for extending the life of the Hubble telescope and ultimately de-orbiting it safely," said committee chair Louis J. Lanzerotti, distinguished research professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, and consultant, Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, N.J. "NASA's current planned robotic mission is significantly more technologically risky, so a robotic mission should be pursued only for the eventual removal of the Hubble telescope from orbit, not for an attempt to upgrade it. Also, a shuttle mission could be used to place equipment on the telescope to make a robotic de-orbiting mission more feasible."

The Hubble telescope, which has operated continuously in orbit for the past 14 years, was designed to be serviced regularly by astronauts. Four servicing missions replaced nearly all the key components while increasing the telescope's capabilities. The fifth and final mission -- to replace aging batteries, fine-guidance sensors, gyroscopes, and two scientific instruments -- was originally intended to be completed by a shuttle crew as well, but NASA is currently planning an unmanned mission to service the telescope robotically.

The committee's principal concerns about a robotic mission are the risk of failing to develop it in time and the risk of a mission failure, as well as the possibility that the robot could critically damage the telescope. A robotic mission would face significant challenges in using its grapple system to perform autonomous close-proximity maneuvers and the final capture of the space telescope -- activities that have no precedent in the history of the space program and whose chances of success are low, according to the committee.

"Our detailed analyses showed that the proposed robotic mission involves a level of complexity that is inconsistent with the current 39-month development schedule," said Lanzerotti. "The design of such a mission, as well as the immaturity of the technology involved and the inability to respond to unforeseen failures, make it highly unlikely that NASA will be able to extend the scientific lifetime of the telescope through robotic servicing."

The committee assessed the safety risks of a shuttle servicing mission by comparing shuttle missions to the International Space Station -- to which NASA plans to send 25 to 30 more shuttle flights -- and shuttle missions to the Hubble telescope. The differences between the risks faced by the crew of a single shuttle mission to the space station and the risks faced by the crew of a mission to the Hubble telescope are very small, the committee concluded.

Also, a shuttle crew would be able to successfully carry out unforeseen repairs to the Hubble telescope and develop innovative procedures for unexpected challenges in orbit, the report notes. Such contingencies have been successfully addressed on three of the four prior missions to the telescope. A robotic mission, on the other hand, might not be able to repair failures that it is not designed to address, possibly stalling the mission in its early stages.

"With the replacement of aging components and the installation of new science instruments, Hubble is expected to generate as many new discoveries about stars, extra-solar planets, and the far reaches of the universe as it has already produced so far, with images 10 times more sensitive than ever before," Lanzerotti said.

The study was sponsored by NASA. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope will be available early next year from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]

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NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Space Studies Board
and
Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board

Committee on the Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope

Louis J. Lanzerotti 1 (chair)
Distinguished Research Professor
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, and
Consultant
Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies
Murray Hill, N.J.

Steven J. Battel
President
Battel Engineering
Scotsdale, Ariz.

Charles F. Bolden Jr.
Major General
U.S. Marine Corps (retired), and
Senior Vice President
TechTrans International Inc.
Houston

Rodney A. Brooks1
Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science, and
Director
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Jon H. Bryson
Senior Vice President
The Aerospace Corp. (retired)
Chantilly, Va.

Benjamin Buchbinder
Program Manager for Risk Assessment
Office of Safety and Mission Assurance
NASA (retired), and
Consultant
Bonaire, Antilles
Netherlands

Bert Bulkin
Director, Scientific Space Programs
Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. (retired)
Woodbridge, Calif.

Robert Dunn
Vice Admiral
U.S. Navy (retired), and
President
National Consortium for Aviation Mobility
Alexandria, Va.

Sandra M. Faber2
Professor of Astronomy
University of California Observatories/Lick Observatory
University of California
Santa Cruz

B. John Garrick1
Independent Consultant
Laguna Beach, Calif.

Riccardo Giacconi2
Research Professor
Johns Hopkins University, and
President
Associated Universities Inc.
Washington, D.C.

Gregory J. Harbaugh
Vice President and Director
Florida Air Museum
Lakeland

Tommy W. Holloway
Independent Consultant
Houston

John M. Klineberg
President
Space Systems/Loral (retired)
Redwood City, Calif.

Vijay Kumar
Professor and Deputy Dean for Research
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia

Forrest S. McCartney
Lieutenant General
U.S. Air Force (retired), and
Vice President
Launch Operations
Lockheed Martin Astronautics Cape Canaveral Air Station (retired)
Indian Harbour Beach, Fla.

Stephen M. Rock
Professor
Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and
Director
Aerospace Robotics Laboratory
Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Joseph H. Rothenberg
President
Universal Space Network
Horsham, Pa.

Joseph H. Taylor Jr. 2
James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Former Dean of the Faculty
Princeton University
Princeton, N.J.

Roger E. Tetrault
Chief Executive Officer
McDermott International Inc. (retired)
Punta Gorda, Fla.

Richard H. Truly1
Vice Admiral
U.S. Navy (retired); and
Director
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Golden, Colo.

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Sandra J. Graham
Study Director


1 Member, National Academy of Engineering
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences