NASA Sets Launch Date to Overhaul Hubble Space Telescope

Over the past 20 years, Hubble has delivered new discoveries and breathtaking images. The most amazing discovery has been Hubble’s longevity.
(Image credit: NASA)

NASA's finalshuttle mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope has a firm September2008 launch date, the space agency announced Thursday.

Aseven-astronaut crew and the shuttle Atlantis, which currently stands poisedfor a Friday launch to the International Space Station (ISS), will rockettowards Hubble on Sept. 10, 2008 to give the orbital telescope its fifth andfinal makeover.

Squeezed inbetween NASA's remaining shuttle flights to complete space stationconstruction, the STS-125 mission to Hubble will extend the orbital observatory'slifetime through 2013. Without the vital servicing mission, Hubble's major scienceactivities would likely end around 2009, with only basic functions remainingthrough 2011, Hubble managers have said.

"Thisis the one mission not going to the space station, so it has to be accommodatedon the fitness of Hubble," NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told SPACE.comof the September 2008 launch date. "This gives us the time to be able to do that while at the same time fitting it into the space station constructionschedule."

NASA plansto complete assembly of the ISS by September 2010, when its aging three-orbitershuttle fleet is due to retire. The space agency initiallycanceled the final $900 million Hubble servicing mission in 2004, findingthe flight too risky after the 2003 Columbia accident.

But widedisapproval of that decision, coupled with support from NASA chief MichaelGriffin, led NASA to first study a robotic mission to Hubble before finally returningto the astronaut-basedservicing flight aboard Atlantis last October.

As a safetymeasure, the space shuttle Endeavour is expected to serve as a possible rescueship should Atlantis suffer critical heat shield damage during launch, Beutelsaid. Unlike ISS construction flights, in which shuttle astronauts can stayaboard the space station if their orbiter is damaged, the STS-125 crew will nothave that safe haven option, NASA officials added.

Commandedby veteran shuttle flyer Scott Altman, the planned 11-day Hubble flight --known as Servicing Mission-4 -- will feature five spacewalks to refit theorbital telescope.

The STS-125crew is expected to: repair one of Hubble's spectrographs and install another;boost the space telescope's orbit; overhaul its attitude control system,replace batteries, thermal insulation and a broken guidance sensor; and installthe Wide Field Camera-3 to enhance the observatory's vision. ?

Hubble researchershave said that they hope the addition of Wide Field Camera-3 will make up forthe loss of the observatory's primary camera -- the Advanced Camera for Surveys-- which wentoffline earlier this year.

The September2008 servicing mission will be the fifth shuttle flight to overhaul Hubblesince the space observatory's April 1990 launch aboard the Discovery orbiter.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.