Repair of popular Hubble space telescope delayed

Other News Materials 30 September 2008 23:31 (UTC +04:00)

NASA has postponed indefinitely the much- awaited repair mission to the Hubble space telescope because of added problems with the orbiting telescope's mechanisms, according to an announcement on its website on Tuesday.

After repeated delays, the Atlantis shuttle was to have launched the risky, precise mission on October 14. That launch has been cancelled, reported dpa.

The next shuttle launch will be of the Endeavour shuttle on November 17 to the International Space Station (ISS), a NASA spokeswoman confirmed.

Endeavour was already prepared and waiting on the launch pad as a backup spacecraft in case Atlantis got into trouble during the Hubble servicing mission, where it would lack the backup of the ISS.

NASA reluctantly scheduled the service mission under pressure from space enthusiasts who were alarmed at the prospect that the ageing Hubble would shut down for years before a new telescope could be launched.

The current glitch involves a "significant" malfunction over the weekend that affected Hubble's "storage and transmittal of science data to Earth," NASA said.

The problem means NASA may have to quickly check out and test a a replacement system as part of the payload, a process that could take until early January.

Hubble's overhaul is expected to improve its eyesight 90-fold as it records tumultuous space events from billions of years ago.

The technical challenges are great. NASA astronomer and astronaut John Grunsfeld, who was to be part of the Hubble rescue team, has described the danger of sharp edges after his team cuts through panelling behind several of Hubble's cameras, and the difficulty of unscrewing and replacing more than 140 tiny screws in weightlessness.

But in the end, the mission is to rescue Hubble from the death sentence that was lifted in mid 2007. That's when NASA gave in to huge pressure to cram the mission into the hectic final three years of the space shuttle programme.

The mission is expected to prolong Hubble's life by another five to 10 years or longer, by which time a new space telescope is expected to be launched.

Beyond the hardware challenges, Grunsfeld and fellow astronomers have exuded enthusiasm and affection for the space telescope that has earned them the nickname "Hubble huggers."

Hubble has delivered astonishing glimpses deeper into the universe and provided a generation of school children and space enthusiasts with dramatic, colorful photos of stars and galaxies spewing matter and taking form.