A Bad Fix for Hubble?

Robotic repair may be riskier than first thought
The Hubble Space Telescope


The decision to repair the Hubble Space Telescope with robotics technology seemed a natural given the safety concerns raised by the crash of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. That way the observatory prized by scientists and admired by the public could function for at least five more years with upgraded sensors. And all the experience gained by using teleoperated manipulators would form the basis of future semiautonomous servicing operations in space. Now, however, independent analyses have cast fresh doubts on whether a robotic mission can reliably save Hubble.

According to the original scheme, spacewalking astronauts would have replaced failing batteries, gyroscopes and fine-guidance sensors. In addition, new scientific instruments--including a wide-field camera and a spectrograph--would have boosted Hubble's observational ability by a factor of 10 or more.

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