Hubble Space Telescope.  Credit: NASA

Hubble Repair Mission in Jepardy Due to Satellite Collision Debris

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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The Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, STS-125 seemingly gets bad news after more bad news. The mission was already delayed due Hurricane Ike in 2008, and again when a data handling processor on the spacecraft failed. Now, the mission may be too risky for both spacecraft and astronauts following the collision of the Iridium satellite and a defunct Russian communications spacecraft last week. There may be too much debris floating around close to Hubble’s orbit, breaching the safety limits NASA has in place. Without a servicing mission by a space shuttle crew, currently targeted for launch in May, the telescope is not expected to last more than another year or two.

Astronauts on spacewalks are even more at risk than the shuttle or even Hubble, and there are five spacewalks planned during the Hubble servicing flight to replace the telescope’s batteries, install new science instruments (including a new camera) and re-apply radiation shielding.

Hubble orbits higher than the International Space Station, closer to the cloud of debris from the collision. Even before the collision, the probabilities of a debris strike for the Hubble mission were already close to NASA’s safety limit. NASA pegged the chance of a catastrophic impact to a shuttle in Hubble’s orbit at 1 in 185, just below its limit of 1 in 200.

Other debris in that orbit includes pieces of a satellite that China blew up in 2007 as part of a missile test, adding hundreds of pieces of potentially hazardous debris.

Mark Matney, an orbital-debris specialist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told Nature magazine that even before last week’s crash the risk of a debris impact for the shuttle already “uncomfortably close to unacceptable levels. This is only going to add on to that.”

A decision about whether to proceed with the Hubble repair mission could be made in the next week or two, Nature reports.

Sources: Discovery News, Nature


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Terragen
Member
Terragen
February 18, 2009 11:37 AM

NYYYYOOOOOOOO!!!!!
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Stupid Russian piece of junk!!!

Bruce
Guest
Bruce
February 18, 2009 12:32 PM

Well, how about lowering it’s orbit, and then doing the service?

Patrick
Guest
Patrick
February 18, 2009 12:36 PM

I thought the collision happened around 750km up. According to wikipedia, Hubble is around 559km. Have the debris orbits decayed that quickly? Or was a bunch of junk shot out into all kinds of new crazy orbits?

Wolter
Member
Wolter
February 18, 2009 12:58 PM

“NASA pegged the chance of a catastrophic impact to a shuttle in Hubble’s orbit at 1 in 185, just below its limit of 1 in 200.”

So that was allready below the lower limit. So what is the “real” limit?

Also, if in Hubble’s orbit the chance on a catastrophic impact is that high, how come Hubble is still there?
The total Hubble in orbit time is well and truly a lot higher then 200 shuttle missions combined.

Chris
Guest
Chris
February 18, 2009 1:08 PM

HORRIBLE NEWS! That is like hearing of a death in the family. Very Very sad! So much could have been learned. Always more bad news than good in this field.

Zvezdichko
Member
Zvezdichko
February 18, 2009 1:40 PM

WHAT? We have become so risk averse as a society, that we can’t make the mission.

It’s a shame! Yes, really! We want to go to Mars, but actually, we can’t go even to Hubble sad

starman
Member
starman
February 18, 2009 1:46 PM

The category is spellchecked headlines: The following author never played “Jeopardy”….

;^)

Getting serious, both countries dropped the ball. It’s most surprising that the US’s mil tracking network did not foresee this.

robbi
Guest
robbi
February 18, 2009 3:54 PM

Unfortunately, such a collision causes the junk to scatter enough to cause each piece of junk to have a trajectory to finally have its own new orbit. it’s true both countries dropped the ball, however, human nature being what it is, mistakes will be made and will continue to be made until we are extinct.
I hope the HST can function enough until there is a fix and get a new space telescope up in orbit.

Trippy
Member
Trippy
February 18, 2009 5:30 PM

My understanding is that the collision was on the list of collisions that “could happen” that are generated each day, but they were predicted to pass within something like 35km of each other, so it didn’t make it onto the list of things to watch out for – there were substantially closer passes predicted for that day.

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
February 18, 2009 6:19 PM

Mere words simply cannot express how pissed off this makes me. Three outrageously unlikely scenarios have now played out to screw Hubble and the entirety of the scientific community, and hence the rest of the world, over.

Why do you hate Hubble so much God!? WHY!? Answer me, damn it!!!

The friggin’ Ruskies and Iridium LLC should pay for a new Hubble.

Dominion
Member
February 18, 2009 6:45 PM

There must be some way to clean up the mess up there. We have a potential domino effect on our hands that could wipe out most of the satellites in orbit. What if we built a satellite that had a couple of huge electro magnets on it? As it makes its orbit it would clean up the junk along the way. Or maybe some sort of huge net strong enough to catch and hold the debris. Come on people…THINK. This is a global problem and we all need to work toward a solution.

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
February 18, 2009 8:56 PM

I like your electromagnet idea. Have to be a pretty bloody big electromagnet, and if it was that big it’d perturb the orbits of other satellites or fry them. But it’d be cool.

Dominion
Member
February 18, 2009 10:07 PM

It wouldn’t do much for non-metallic debris either. How about a giant vacuum cleaner pulled behind the space shuttle? Would that work in the vacuum of space? Or swarms of little robots like Wall-E. They could move around with little ion engines and collect the stuff and then bring it all to a central point for recycling.

draks
Member
draks
February 19, 2009 3:10 AM

I think something like Wall-E is on the way:
http://i.gizmodo.com/5062666/robotic-repair-system-could-rescue-us-from-falling-satellites

But I also would go for magnetic cleaner, at least it could get the metallic parts, which might not be everything, but let’s say the bullets.

lisa_c
Member
lisa_c
February 19, 2009 6:43 AM
Feenixx
Member
February 19, 2009 7:31 AM

an idea for using the solar power collected in space:

1) create huge magnetic fields between constellations of satellites
2) metallic junk passing through those fields will loose some of its kinetic energy with each pass through one of those fields, and hopefully slow down enough, eventually, to de-orbit.
3) recover this lost kinetic energy as electricity, and use it to supplement the power supply of the field generators.

Active satellites should be able to compensate and not de-orbit, if their designers did a good job.

It’ll be a slow process, but I reckon it may work. NEO space is huge, but little by little, as years and decades pass, this may be a good way to set about cleaning things up.

Timmy
Guest
Timmy
February 19, 2009 7:47 AM
Sean O’Keefe will finally get his way, I see. The debris issue is just an excuse not to do the mission and save a few dollars in the NASA budget. The satellite debris is still too high up to threaten HST or any Space Shuttle repair mission for a long time to come. NASA has a bad habit of dropping support for what they deem to be “old” missions no matter how popular or successful they have been. HST may be an icon of the space program in the eyes of the public, who foot the bills for NASA as taxpayers, but they are counting on the same public to forget about HST as it is quietly left… Read more »
NoAstronomer
Member
February 19, 2009 8:33 AM
“adding hundreds of pieces of potentially hazardous debris.” Try hundreds of thousands of pieces of potentially hazardous debris. NASA estimates that 150,000 pieces of debris 1cm or larger were created by the destruction of the chinese satellite. The cosmos/iridium collision may well have doubled that amount. As robbi points out it’s not so much that the orbits have decayed it’s because some debris is pushed into more elliptical orbits with perihelion closer to earth. As to why Hubble is still there despite being in a dangerous orbit, well for one thing the two most recent debris causing events are both less than a year old. Secondly Hubble has probably been hit multiple times over its life. But most… Read more »
steve
Guest
February 19, 2009 9:21 AM

It’s actually spelled jeopardy, not jepardy.

Spoodle58
Member
February 19, 2009 10:34 AM

Repairing the scope is worth the risk, even the astronauts doing this mission have said that.

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