May 1, 2008

NASA Pushes Hubble Flight Back 4-5 Weeks

NASA's Hubble Repair Mission launch date is being pushed back due to unexpected problems getting a new external fuel tank ready for the Atlantis orbiter's launch.

The flight was set for August 28, but NASA said it expects that date to slip by four to five weeks.

The repair flight is intended to provide upgrades for the Hubble Space Telescope, which should expand its time in space to at least 2013.

"Right now Hubble is scheduled for August 28. We really cannot make that date with the external tank processing schedule," said John Shannon, space shuttle program manager at NASA.

"This all falls from the processing changes that were made to assemble the tanks with the post-Columbia [modifications] in-line.

"What we're looking at is a four-to-five week slip in the Hubble date; sometime in late September, early October," he told a media briefing at the Johnson Space Center on Thursday.

NASA said extra time is needed to complete work on this month's Discovery flight to the International Space Station, which will also be the premiere of the space agency's "in-line" external fuel tank, which has been upgraded since 2003's Columbia disaster.

NASA hopes its upgrades will reduce the shedding of insulation foam, which was the cause of the Columbia's failure, resulting in the loss of seven astronauts upon re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere.

NASA engineers have had to become acquainted with new in-line technology, which has resulted in the four to five week slip of the remainder of this year's scheduled flights.

Discovery's launch date is still set for May 31.

With five flights to the station already booked for 2008, the last shuttle mission will probably be moved to early 2009.

NASA had planned to cancel the final servicing of Hubble following the Columbia disaster, but it was later re-instated into the shuttle launch schedule after a campaign from astronomers who were reluctant to lose the Hubble Telescope after its history of valuable discoveries.

The telescope will require new batteries and gyroscopes, or it will not last more than a couple of years.

Hubble will also get new installations such as a Wide Field Camera 3, and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. These instruments are expected to improve Hubble's ability to probe distant, faint objects in the early Universe.

On April 30, NASA signed a $39.5 million contract modification with Lockheed Martin Space Systems to begin an "external tank program employee retention plan," which will provide incentives for external tank personnel in order to support the space agency's projected schedule through September 2010.


On the Net:


HST Servicing Mission 4 (Nasa)

Hubble Space Telescope (Nasa)

Hubble Space Telescope (Esa)