NASA Goddard - Greenbelt
Case Study NASA Goddard - Greenbelt

Perfecting The Last Hubble Rendezvous

Leica Geosystems Laser Tracker System Provides "Reality Check" in NASA Part-Mate Exercise

When NASA comes to mind, one instantly envisions their mission to launch vehicles to the moon and beyond. Yet the agency has a secondary mandate. Whatever NASA puts into low earth orbit must be safely brought home upon its expiration date. With a life expectancy of 20 years, the scientific community speculated the Hubble Space Telescope would fail in the next few years without repairs. After years of deliberation and public outcry to save the beloved Hubble, NASA announced a fifth and final Shuttle-to Hubble mission. The seven-astronaut crew of Servicing Mission 4 will conduct the last restoration of the observatory in September 2008. Launched in 1990, the telescope has broadcast over 750,000 celestial images, and has been a major contributor to modern astronomy and space exploration.

This extreme makeover will buy the space observatory more time…resetting its retirement to 2013. Meanwhile, the telescope's ultimate destiny is still being hashed out by NASA. Based on extensive analysis, the agency concludes the Hubble is unlikely to re-enter the earth's atmosphere on its own before 2020. Preparations for the eventual deorbit of the telescope are underway at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The Hubble resides 353 miles above the Earth's surface, and interestingly enough, the 13-ton observatory does not have a propulsion system. NASA is devising a plan that will autonomously link up their new shuttle or other robotic vehicle with the telescope, add the necessary propelling force, and thrust it back toward Earth. Destination: an uninhabited stretch of the Pacific Ocean. While a deorbit module project for Hubble has been canceled, the quest for sensor technology and the creation of an attachment fixture has continued full speed ahead. The fixture will be outfitted to the end of the telescope during Servicing Mission 4. . . . .

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