Five years after a fifth and final shuttle servicing mission, the Hubble Space Telescope’s instruments are operating in near-flawless fashion and while one of its six stabilizing gyroscopes has failed, project managers are optimistic the observatory will be able to operate through the end of the decade, wrapping up 30 years at the apex of astronomy.
If those forecasts hold up, NASA will be able to use Hubble in concert with its successor, the $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope, giving astronomers a golden opportunity to compare Hubble’s visible-light images with Webb’s deep infrared views to better understand the structure and evolution of the early universe.
“Hubble’s doing great,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s director of space science operations and one of the spacewalkers who helped service Hubble during a final visit in 2009. “We’ve had one gyro failure, but that’s to be expected.
“If we can keep Hubble going through 2020, with an October 2018 James Webb Space Telescope launch, the scientific opportunity is tremendous. Now we can’t guarantee that. It’s space, it’s really hard. [But] knock on wood, we can keep Hubble going a long time.”
Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University, is equally optimistic.
“Hubble seems to be in remarkably good condition, the gyros are holding out, the instruments are holding out far better than we anticipated,” he said in an interview.
“The real issue for us, which is what’s proving very exciting, is though the instruments have now been up for almost five years, we’re finding news ways to use them and new ways to correct the effects of being in space,” he said. “And so they’re becoming even more sensitive than they were when we went up there.”