STS-125 || Space Shuttle Atlantis - Hubble servicing mission [UPDATE x7]
Posted 24 March 2008 - 06:02 PM
NASA is still targeting August 28th as the launch date for the space shuttle Atlantis' mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, but problems with the redesigned external fuel tank are threatening to delay the mission. Since the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, NASA has been constantly making design changes to the fuel tank in an effort to minimize the amout of foam insulation shed from the tank during launch. Turns out, that the changes have forced the assembly plant to start from scratch.
The orange foam-covered external fuel tanks are built at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, LA. The changes made to the tanks have forced the assembly to abandon older completed tanks and start from scratch, as it was not feasible to modify the existing stock.
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Posted 01 May 2008 - 08:37 PM
NASA saw this one coming, the Space Shuttle Atlantis’ mission to the Hubble Space Telescope haw been delayed by at least a month. As we reported a month ago, the delays getting two external fuel tanks ready for the Hubble mission for late August have added up to the point where NASA won’t be able to catch up in time. So much so that the launch has been pushed back four to five weeks.
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Posted 25 May 2008 - 11:49 PM
Postponed by a delay in the manufacturing of the problematic external fuel tanks, the space shuttle Atlantis will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on October 8th, 2008. The mission commanded by veteran astronaut Scott Altman, will be the last shuttle mission sent to the 18-year-old Hubble Space Telescope and should ensure operation of the storied telescope through 2013.
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The Hubble Space Telescope docked with the space shuttle Discovery in 1999.
Posted 07 September 2008 - 06:43 PM
Two days later than originally planned, the space shuttle Atlantis rolled out to is launch pad on the Atlantic Coast on Thursday. The move to Launch Complex 39A, the primary shuttle launching platform, was delayed by Tropical Storm Hanna, which skirted by Florida’s coast earlier in the week before charging up the eastern United States seaboard. The storm dealt no damage to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The two-day delay will ripple through the mission timeline, pushing back the launch to service the Hubble Space Telescope to no earlier than October 8, 2008.
While Hanna ended up being of little concern, NASA officials are still keeping a wary eye on the horizon. Hurricane Ike, currently pounding the Bahamas, is of no threat to the Kennedy Space Center, but projected paths take it in the vicinity of New Orleans. The NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans builds the massive external fuel tanks for the space shuttle fleet and was out of service for several weeks following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Farther out in the Atlantic Ocean was Tropical Storm Josephine, which while slowly plodding to the west has struggled to maintain even tropical depression status, though is showing the potential for regeneration.
Even with the delay from Hanna and potentially other storms, NASA still has about four days of padding built into the launch schedule - more than enough time to even roll Atlantis back to the shelter of the Vehicle Assembly Building and back out to the launch pad again.
Atlantis’ October 8th launch will be the fifth and final servicing mission to the aging Hubble Space Telescope and the last space shuttle mission to anything other than the International Space Station. The 11-day mission will be commanded by US Astronaut Scott Altman and will consist of five spacewalks to repair and upgrade the telescope, including new batteries, gyroscopes, and cameras.
Because Atlantis would not be able to reach the ISS in the event of critical damage that would prevent the shuttle from safely reentering Earth’s atmosphere, NASA has decided to have a second shuttle - Endeavour - on standby at the neighboring Launch Complex 39B to serve as a quick-launch crew rescue craft. As Atlantis will not be loaded to the brim with supplies for the ISS, it will be able to carry enough supplies to sustain it and the seven person crew for 25 days while NASA launches Endeavour and the second shuttle moves to rendezvous. Given the number of safety improvements made since the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, NASA officials think the likelihood of having to launch such a rescue mission is very low.
After Atlantis returns safely to Earth, Endeavour will be moved to Launch Complex 39A and prepped for its November 12 launch to the International Space Station.
Posted 03 October 2008 - 08:30 AM
With two space shuttle poised on the launch pad, the planned October mission to service the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope has been pushed back to next year following a failure of the telescope’s command and data systems. The breakdown does not prevent Hubble from orienting itself towards targets, once oriented the telescope cannot take pictures or transmit data back to Earth. Complicating the breakdown is the fact that NASA had planned to launch the space shuttle Atlantis on a servicing mission in less than two weeks.
This is the latest in a string of system failures aboard Hubble. Prior to last week, the only operational observational tools on Hubble were the infrared and x-ray cameras- it is also equipped with visual and ultraviolet spectrum cameras. The Atlantis crew had a long list of repairs and upgrades to perform that would have extended Hubbleâ€™s life well into 2013. The failure of the data systems adds another task to the repair roster, and it is one that NASA had not trained for or anticipated. To evaluate the situation and train the astronauts to perform even more orbital repairs, NASA has delayed the launch of STS-124 Atlantis to an undetermined point next year.
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Posted 11 May 2009 - 07:23 PM
Written by Derek Kessler
The space shuttle Atlantis lifted off at 2:00 PM EDT today from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, rocketing into orbit on its way to the final servicing mission for the aging Hubble Space Telescope. The seven member crew launched into space just as their target was passing over Florida, some 560 km overhead. Also, for the first time ever, a standby shuttle - Endeavour - was on a neighboring launch pad, prepared to launch in the event that the Atlantis crew needed rescuing.
STS-125 was delayed seven months from its originally planned launch, resulting in a dance of the remaining three space shuttles as they were swapped for a mission to the International Space Station. Last fall, NASA was just two weeks from launch when Hubble’s computers unexpectedly failed, leading the space agency to cancel the launch and revamp their repair plans as well as dig up new replacement parts.
Finally, today, Atlantis lifted off. But the launch was not without issues. There was some excess ice buildup on a fuel line that concerned engineers and inclement weather at an emergency shuttle landing site in Spain. In the end, though, the shuttle launched as scheduled, only to suffer glitches in its engine indicators (the engines themselves worked as designed) and flight control feedback systems.
As anticipated, a few small pieces of the external fuel tank shed during launch, but the extensive modifications made since the loss of Columbia in 2003 prevented any from striking the shuttle’s heat shield wings. The Atlantis crew will still perform a meticulous inspection of the entire tiled heat shield, just to be sure.
The shuttle will rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope on Wednesday. This will be the fifth mission to service Hubble, the first being its deployment from Discovery in 1990. This mission will be the most ambitious of NASA’s Hubble servicings, with astronauts completely replacing the telescope’s batteries and gyroscopes, as well as installing two new cameras and attempting to repair two other broken sensors. These tasks will be complicated by the fact that these components were not designed for space-based servicing, though NASA did craft special tools just for this mission. The astronauts will also replace the primary computer that failed last year with the refurbished back up unit, as well as installing new insulation blankets and sensors.
All told, a minimum of five spacewalks will be needed to complete all the repairs, replacements, and upgrades. To assist, two of the astronauts aboard Atlantis are veterans of those previous Hubble servicing missions: John Grunsfeld and Michael Massimino. Grunsfeld, who is filling the role of repair chief, is making his third trip to Hubble. Even mission commander Scott Altman has flown to Hubble before.
At a cost of one billion dollars, the STS-125 mission brings the total price tag for the Hubble Space Telescope for $10 billion. The hope is that the new sensors and cameras will allow for Hubble to operate for another five to ten years without any further servicing. Regardless, this will be the last manned trip to Hubble, as the space shuttle fleet will be retired next year and the replacement Orion CEV will not be equipped for a mission as complicated as a satellite capture. But the Atlantis crew will be installing a capture point for a possible future robotic mission to latch onto Hubble and pull it out of orbit (though such a mission would likely cost several hundred million dollars).
Posted 13 May 2009 - 07:33 PM
Written by Derek Kessler
In what is likely to go down as the riskiest space shuttle mission ever, the space shuttle Atlantis today caught up with the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and captured the aging satellite for a series of repairs and upgrades. The shuttle crew also performed a detailed inspection of the shuttle’s heat shield tile belly, discovering a set of scuffs caused be debris falling off the external fuel tank during launch.
The damage, described by NASA as minor dings, is not expected to be of concern. The four scuffs were caused by one chunk of debris and are spread over a 53 cm line on the starboard wing. The damage was discovered during the routine heat shield inspection that swept the shuttle’s sensitive tile belly with a laser and camera tipped inspection pole. A team of NASA engineers are reviewing the scans and photos to determine if any repairs, or a rescue mission by Endeavour (currently on a Kennedy Space Center launch pad), will be warranted, though such actions will likely not be required. The heat shield will be scanned again before Atlantis attempts to land next week.
During the launch, the launch pad was also damaged, though such damage was not anticipated. The blast force of Atlantis’ engines and the solid rocket boosters damaged pressurized nitrogen lines used to cool the shuttle’s fuel tank. The launch also blasted away 2.3 square meters (25 square feet) of flame retardant material used to line the flame trench that funnels away rocket exhaust during liftoff (and is responsible for the spectacular wide billowing launch exhaust). NASA expects that the launch pad will be repaired in time for the planned June 13th launch of Endeavour to the International Space Station.
Today, at 1:14 PM EDT, Atlantis had caught up with Hubble in orbit and its astronauts used the craft’s robotic arm to latch onto the telescope. The thirteen ton bus-sized telescope was pulled into the shuttle’s cargo bay and attached to a rotating stand that will allow the astronauts to easily perform the repairs and upgrades needed during their five spacewalks.
The shuttle has since started maneuvers to drop into a less hazardous orbit than the one that Hubble orbits in. The amount of debris and litter in that orbital range has increased dramatically in the seven years since the last shuttle visit, with a number of satellite failures in addition to the destruction of three satellites in the same orbit.
The initial visual inspection of the telescope revealed that despite nineteen years in orbit and seven years since its last maintenance visit the satellite was still in good condition, its shiny metal exterior still shining brightly in the sun. In five planned spacewalks beginning tomorrow the astronauts will replace two of Hubble’s cameras, a data-handling computer, all of its batteries and gyroscopes, and attempt to repair other components that were not designed for space-based maintenance. If all the repairs go as planned, NASA expects that Hubble’s life span will be extended for at least five more years, as well as dramatically boosting the telescope's vision.
Posted 15 May 2009 - 10:48 PM
Written by Derek Kessler
In two marathon spacewalks yesterday and today, astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis performed a series of much-needed in-orbit upgrades and repairs to the aging Hubble Space Telescope. On Thursday they installed a new piano-sized camera in the bus-sized telescope, which is currently mounted in the shuttle’s open cargo bay. Yesterday’s spacewalk also featured the replacement of a failed data-handling computer and the installation of a new docking ring that will allow a robotic craft years from now to hook up to the satellite and drag it into a controlled reentry.
But the spacewalk was not without troubles. Astronauts John Grunsfeld and Andrew Feustel struggled with the removal of the old camera unit, which was held in place with an uncooperative bolt. Even with extra tools, they were unable to open the bolt, leading to NASA ordering the astronauts to use as much force as they could muster, even though it may break the bolt and dash any hope of installing the new modern camera. Eventually, after much frustration the bolt came loose and the cameras were swapped, but the complication put the astronauts behind schedule in just the first spacewalk.
The new camera, the Wide Field Camera 3, cost $312 million to build and will resolve sharper images than Hubble has ever managed. Astronomers estimate that the new camera will enable them to resolve details of the early universe some 500 to 600 million years after creation. It is replacing the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, which was installed during a December 1993 servicing mission that corrected Hubble’s faulty optics. It has made more than 135,000 observations and once returned to Earth will be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.
Hubble docked in the Atlantis cargo bay.
Friday’s work started with the replacement of all six of Hubble’s gyroscopes, which are used to orient the telescope in orbit so it can image specific targets that are so far away that they don’t even appear as points of light to us Earth-bound humans. Like the camera, the gyroscopes were not without frustration, this time resulting in an extra-long eight-hour spacewalk. The six original gyroscopes (three of which had failed and two others were acting up) were easily removed by Michael Massimino, who had maneuvered into the telescope, and Michael Good.
The gyroscopes were installed in pairs and one of the sets simply wouldn’t fit. After several hours of frustrated attempts to install the final pair, mission control had them retrieve a set of spare gyroscopes that Atlantis had launched with. These gyroscopes were refurbished original units from when Hubble was launched back in 1990 and were removed and returned to Earth during the 1999 servicing mission. The refurbished set was installed without issue, but the ordeal had put them five hours behind on their scheduled tasks for the spacewalk.
Despite the delays caused by the ill-fitting gyroscopes, the astronauts continued with the spacewalk schedule and replaced half of Hubble’s batteries. The nickel hydrogen batteries are recharged by the telescope’s two solar panel wings and used to power the telescope when it’s in the ideal observation territory - the Earth’s shadow. The old batteries were the original set that Hubble launched with 19 years ago. They are installed in packs of three, are the size of a large CRT (tube) television, and weigh in at nearly 225 kg (500 lbs).
Because the spacewalk ran so far over, NASA instructed the astronauts that they were to sleep in on Saturday and take a later start for the day’s spacewalk, when they’ll try an unprecedented orbital repair of the telescope’s electronics in the Advanced Camera for Surveys and install a new spectrographic camera. Sunday will feature a second repair attempt, this time on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. For the fifth and final spacewalk, scheduled for Monday, astronauts will replace the rest of Hubble’s batteries and its fine guidance sensors.
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