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  Hubble Telescope: End of life scenarios

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Author Topic:   Hubble Telescope: End of life scenarios
teopze
Member

Posts: 171
From: Warsaw, Poland
Registered: May 2008

posted 05-20-2009 06:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for teopze   Click Here to Email teopze     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Although the last servicing mission has not ended yet I already have some thoughts about it.

Particularly I noticed that the newspapers strongly emphasize "the fact" that "this is the last time a human touched the Hubble," or "this is the last mission to Hubble" etc.

Well, I have a certain problem with this. First of all, as I understand it, there will be no more servicing missions and I'm okay with that. I understand the need for something newer/better than the aging Hubble Space Telescope (HST). After all, it is getting rather old. A new generation should eventually take its place. What I don't like is the idea of pushing the HST deeper into the atmosphere until it eventually burns/explodes into pieces.

Why is it so important to burn it after all? Do you burn you grandparents when they can't provide and more help? I somehow doubt that.

So, I was thinking about it before I went to sleep and here are some of my ideas. Even if they are highly improbable or costly, I'd still like to present it here. The only assumption I make is that HST is effectively dead after 2014-2015 and its dead body that I'd like to be taken care of.

  1. Let's send an engine module that will attach to the HST and push it into the atmosphere. In other words, lets burn it (I'm guessing this is the simplest and cheapest solution and that's why we will eventually have to live with the fact it came true).

  2. Let's send an engine module that will attach to the HST and push it into a higher orbit instead, one that will keep Hubble flying for decades or even millennia in such safe orbit. (As I said, I care very little about the fact that it will be long dead by that time.)

  3. Let's send an engine module (possibly some high-efficiency, reliable ion-engine module) and send HST to one of the L points. Let it stay there, where it's safer to avoid any debris and where it does not cost to monitor it's status. (As I understand L points are quite stable and an object once put there can't simply fly away into space or return to Earth.)

  4. Let's just bring it home, you still have some operational shuttles, don't you? Nah, I can hardly believe it will ever come true, too costly and to dangerous they will say.

  5. It's a long shot now. Let's change the orbit of the HST so that it could be attached to the ISS. Why not? With some super efficient ion-engines a small orbit adjustments should be possible?

  6. This will be a very long-shot but why not to send it deep into space, far far beyond our solar system. Okay, I know, it will cost and has no scientific benefit so it won't ever happen. But imagine how nice it would be for future generations to play with this astro-archeology. In hundreds of years one could go and bring it back to Earth, just like they will do with Voyagers, Pioneers, etc. (assuming it will not be morally questionable to stop them on their completely pointless journey... [this the statement that I'm making assuming that the mankind will already have some much faster means of transportation]).
Any of those "keep it flying" scenarios are interesting to me. The HST relic would always inspire people to go there and pay it a visit or even to bring it home on its last voyage. Can you imagine having the real thing in Smithsonian?

By the way, has anyone ever thought about some kind of a graveyard for historically important satellites?

Finally, some questions: How long could the HST stay on its current orbit before it really becomes some kind of a threat? Are there any toxic material that could in any sense contaminate space or the atmosphere?

Max Q
Member

Posts: 399
From: Whyalla South Australia
Registered: Mar 2007

posted 05-20-2009 06:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Max Q   Click Here to Email Max Q     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was under the impression the original idea was to bring Hubble home but I don't think the risk of a shuttle launch is worth the risk.

That having been said, I heard on the radio the other day an astronomer say that once the telescope had been refurbished plans may be made to visit it one more time.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38957
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-20-2009 07:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Scenarios "A" (reentry) and "B" (high LEO) are, according to those working on the program, the only options that are reasonable and/or feasible.

Bringing it home with a shuttle ("D") is not possible. Hubble will no longer fit in the shuttle's payload bay and would require a full servicing mission just to remove equipment added since 1993 to make it fit (and that realization was not something that the HST managers accepted without regret).

Sending it to the ISS ("E"), for all intents and purposes, is impossible. Too much fuel is needed for the orbit and plane change, and assuming for the moment you could get around that, there's too high a chance of irreparably damaging Hubble's optics in the process, making the whole effort worthless.

Scenarios "C" (Lagrange orbit) and "F" (solar system departure) seem wasteful at best. There's really no advantage (for a dead satellite) between "B" and "C", and if future retrieval is a goal, then a high Earth orbit is far preferable and more realistic than chasing down a solar system-escaping piece of space junk.

I personally would have desired to have Hubble back on Earth at the end of its life, were that possible. If any spacecraft has ever earned its right to be in the National Air and Space Museum, Hubble has. I would not be opposed to the idea of boosting it to a high Earth orbit, but reentry is simply more realistic.

teopze
Member

Posts: 171
From: Warsaw, Poland
Registered: May 2008

posted 05-20-2009 07:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for teopze   Click Here to Email teopze     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Of course I have to agree that the most pragmatic approach will win. That is what I expect from NASA these days. Anyway, I'll bet $10 that they will eventually raise the orbit, simply because of public opinion. While the resources will probably be very similar, it will look so much better in the newspapers.

Obviously A and B are the only scenarios that make sense, but still it's nice to exercise the brain with some wild scenarios as well.

One other idea: the HST could be sent to the moon as a heavy-weight impactor. That would "keep it stored" for future generations (well, not really) but it would also provide some extra knowledge.

SpaceAholic
Member

Posts: 4100
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-20-2009 08:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Sending it to the ISS ("E"), for all intents and purposes, is impossible. Too much fuel is needed for the orbit and plane change...
There are low propellant options — i.e. attachment of an augmentation module with ion propulsion/solar panels (would take several years to effect the necessary inclination change); solar sail might also be a possibility.

I think it's premature to discuss the demise of Hubble. In a few years we may have a different perspective on how to harvest benefit from otherwise expired technology on orbit.

Philip
Member

Posts: 5679
From: Brussels, Belgium
Registered: Jan 2001

posted 10-31-2009 03:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Does anybody know details on the robotic mission/unmanned probe that has to dock with the unmanned 11.1 ton Hubble Space Telescope in order to de-orbit it safely into Earth's atmosphere at the end of its life?

During Servicing Mission 4, HST got the Soft Capture and Rendezvous System (SCRS) at the instrument end of the 16 m long Space Telescope... just curious to know if that probe with de-orbit engine already exists?

Editor's note: Threads merged.

Philip
Member

Posts: 5679
From: Brussels, Belgium
Registered: Jan 2001

posted 11-01-2009 02:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Bringing the HST back on board an orbiter wouldn't be an option as landing would be difficult with the extra 11110 kilograms in the back.

However, de-orbiting Hubble would certainly result in some heavy pieces surviving the re-entry. Hubble's 2.40m primary mirror has a weight of 820 kilograms and could survive!

micropooz
Member

Posts: 1456
From: Washington, DC, USA
Registered: Apr 2003

posted 11-01-2009 05:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for micropooz   Click Here to Email micropooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Philip:
...just curious to know if that probe with de-orbit engine already exists?
A deorbit module does not exist yet for Hubble.

Back in 2004-2005 when the robotic servicing mission was in vogue, a preliminary design was made of a deorbit module that would have flown with the robotic servicing module. However, by the time a deorbit module is needed for Hubble as we know it today, it will likely be different than what was designed back then.

oly
Member

Posts: 275
From: Perth, Western Australia
Registered: Apr 2015

posted 02-21-2018 08:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for oly   Click Here to Email oly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Is there any update on Hubble end of life timeline? How much longer will Hubble work and what is it's end of life plan?

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 38957
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 02-21-2018 09:49 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From ESA's website for Hubble:
With the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet in 2011, there are no spacecraft currently in operation that could collect Hubble and return it to Earth. Hubble's orbit is relatively stable, so it will not be immediately de-orbited when it stops working. However it will eventually need to be brought down in a controlled re-entry to ensure that any debris does not land in inhabited areas — Hubble is too big to fully burn up in the atmosphere.

During the final servicing mission in 2009, a docking device was fitted onto the base of the telescope so that a rocket can easily attach and safely de-orbit the telescope once its mission is complete.

What is the expected lifespan of Hubble?

The last, and final, servicing mission for Hubble took place in 2009, and the space telescope is still doing very well. As such, there is no set date for Hubble’s retirement. Hubble will continue to work for as long as its components operate and it provides a good service to the scientific community.

NASA's website for Hubble has a similar statement, but it predates the end of the shuttle program.

oly
Member

Posts: 275
From: Perth, Western Australia
Registered: Apr 2015

posted 02-22-2018 06:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for oly   Click Here to Email oly     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you Robert for the update, I hope Hubble will be capable of getting a shot of the Webb telescope once in position and operational.

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