September 30, 2008

Hubble Repair Delayed Till 2009

By Dan Vergano and Traci Watson

A hardware failure means the planned October launch of a space shuttle to fix NASA's Hubble Space Telescope will be delayed until mid-February, the space agency said Monday.

Failure of Hubble's "control unit/science data formatter," which records and transmits science data from the telescope to scientists, leaves the spacecraft mute, says NASA's Ed Weiler. Mission controllers will restart a backup control unit on Hubble, which has been off since 1990, and hope to have it operating by the end of the week.

"This is a major event for Hubble," Preston Burch of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said at a teleconference Monday. NASA had planned to launch the shuttle Atlantis to Hubble for repairs on Oct. 14.

NASA has a suitcase-size replacement control unit and is investigating installing it on the Atlantis mission. Installing the replacement, which needs space-readiness testing that won't be complete until January, would require a two-hour spacewalk, said John Shannon of NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston. Existing tools could remove the 10 bolts holding the 136-pound unit from Hubble.

"In some sense, if this had to happen, it couldn't have happened at a better time," Weiler said. "This instrument was designed to be taken out and replaced by astronauts."

Weiler said delaying the repair would cost $10 million a month because it would affect NASA's efforts to build a successor to the shuttle, which is scheduled to retire in 2010. The development of the new rocket demands the use of a launchpad, launch platform and hangar at Cape Canaveral that also are needed by the shuttle program until the Hubble repair mission ends. The first test flight for the rocket was planned for April, but "this is likely to affect that," said NASA spokesman Grey Hautaluoma.

Plans to repair Hubble were scuttled after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven astronauts in 2003. NASA re-approved the plans in 2006. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>