STS-125 Final Shuttle Mission to Hubble Takes Off

The space shuttle Atlantis has begun the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Launched at 2:01 EDT on May 11 from Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A, the mission is scheduled to last 11 days concluding in a May 22 touchdown planned at Kennedy Space Center. Five spacewalks are planned to install new instruments and repair portions of existing Hubble instrumentation.
 STS-125 crew: Michael J. Massimino, Michael T. Good, Gregory C. Johnson, Scott D. Altman, K. Megan McArthur, John M. Grunsfeld, and Andrew J. Feustel (Credit: NASA)
STS-125 crew: Michael J. Massimino,
Michael T. Good, Gregory C. Johnson,
Scott D. Altman, K. Megan McArthur,
John M. Grunsfeld, and Andrew J. Feustel
(Credit: NASA)

Liftoff was dubbed successful, but a very small impact occurred 106 seconds into the launch. A careful check of the heat shielding – planned as a standard part of the mission – showed a few small dings in the heat shielding near the impact site but officials feel the damage is minor and will not prevent successful re-entry. Shuttle Endeavour is standing by on launch pad 39B ready for an emergency launch if rescue will be deemed necessary, but no plans exist to use it at this time.

The repairs and additions to the Hubble Space Telescope should extend its useful operational lifetime through at least 2014 when the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled for deployment. Some of the new additions and components used for repairs were designed for JWST and retroactively adopted for use in the Hubble. Among the new components is a new charge-coupled device electronics box, which uses a small application-specific integrated circuit that greatly decreases the size and number of components needed to digitize the signals sent from Hubble to the ground. Field testing the circuitry in Hubble will help refine the technology prior to its deployment in JWST.

Two new instruments are the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph will observe light from distant quasars and observe how it changes as it passes through different gases on its way to Earth. These observations should provide information on the gases found between galaxies and how such gases affect galaxies and their formation. The WFC3 adds the capability to take very high resolution photographs in the infrared and ultraviolet ranges as well as portions of the visible light range. The WFC3 should complement Hubble’s primary existing visible light camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and greatly improve the ability to take simultaneous pictures across multiple portions of the spectrum.

 Impact shot just after the STS-125 launch (Credit: NASA)
Impact shot just after the
STS-125 launch (Credit: NASA)

The Hubble repairs planned during STS-125 are complex and involve small repairs to instruments specifically designed not to be opened and taken apart in space. For example, accessing just one computer card on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph involves removing at least 100 screws which will have to be replaced after the repair. The ability to replace small elements of a larger component is essential to future space missions where full instrument replacement will likely be difficult, costly, and perhaps even impossible.

TFOT has previously reported on other space shuttle launches including Atlantis’ last mission STS-122, which attached the Columbus Laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS); STS-124, which installed part of Japan’s Kibo laboratory at the ISS, and the last space shuttle launch STS-126, which delivered general equipment and an additional crew member to the ISS.

Read more information about STS-125 at its NASA mission page. Read more about Hubble at its main NASA page.

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