NASA?s iconic Hubble Space Telescope is poised to make itslong-awaited comeback to observing the cosmos.
After majorsurgery conducted earlier this year by space shuttle astronauts and arigorous checkup, Hubble has been pronounced to be in good health and ready foractive duty, with its first new images set to be released tomorrow.
The 19-year-old spacecraft, which has wowed astronomers andthe public with spectacular images over the years, had several instruments replacedand repaired ? including a brand new camera ? during a 13-day service callby astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.
After the astronauts departed, Hubble mission managers begana months-long, rigorous checkout and calibration phase with all of the spacetelescope's new and repaired instruments. They ran into a few hiccups along theway, with a glitch in the new Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) inJuly that caused the team to suspendoperations for the instrument, and another in the new data-handling unit inmid-June.
"The post [Servicing Mission 4] checkout andcalibration activities (we call it SMOV ? Servicing Mission Observatory Verification)has gone extremely well," said program manager Preston Burch. "We hita few bumps along the way (which is no surprise, given the enormous amount ofnew equipment installed, and its complexity), but we were able to resolve themand stay on our original overall schedule."
The checkout procedures were necessary to make sure thetelescope would function properly once it resumed snapping pictures of theuniverse. Mission managers did take one break to capturean image of a rare event, the comet that struck Jupiter in mid-July andleft a dark bruise in the gas giant's roiling atmosphere. That image was takenwith the brand new Wide Field Camera 3, which wasn't fully calibrated at thetime, but is set to snap more pictures now.
"WFC3 was remarkable for the smoothness of its checkoutand calibration," Burch told SPACE.com.
All of Hubble's other systems and instruments have beenchecked out and look to be in good working order.
"In just about all areas, the new and repaired scienceinstruments meet or exceed their performance specifications, and we believethey will fulfill the expectations of the astronomy community," Burchsaid.
Scientists and NASA officials would give no hint of what thetargets are for the first photos, so Hubble fans will have to wait for Wednesday'smid-day release.
- SPACE.com Show: Hubble's Final Shuttle Service Call
- SPACE.com's Complete Coverage of the Hubble Space Telescope
- Images ? Hubble's Latest Views of the Universe: Part 1, Part 2