The Space Shuttle
The Hubble Story Continued
NASA and its industrial partners—called contractors—brought up the option of developing a vehicle that could achieve orbit and return to earth intact and be reused repeatedly; the concept of the Space Shuttle was born. The Space Shuttle could deploy the LST into space and reel it back for return to Earth. The shuttle could, and would, be used for a myriad of other operations for the space program as well.
Image to the right: This image shows a drawing of what the Space Shuttle has looked like from 1972 - present. Credit: NASA
NASA suggested that the lifetime of the space telescope be fifteen years, which implied that the instruments needed the ability to be replaced on the ground or even serviced in orbit—an ability not afforded to any satellite before or since. Scientists also had to balance the size and quantity of scientific instruments versus their cost. Too many instruments meant financial support was less likely; conversely, instruments of minimal capability would result in the loss of scientific support for the telescope. The European Space Agency (ESA) joined the project in 1975 and provided fifteen percent of the funding of the LST via contribution of the Faint Object Camera (FOC) and the solar arrays. In return, NASA guaranteed at least fifteen percent of telescope time—the amount of time astronomers use the telescope for space observations - to European astronomers. In 1977, Congress approved funding to build one of the most sophisticated satellites ever constructed.
Who Does What?
NASA chose Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as the lead NASA field center for the design, development, and construction of the renamed Space Telescope (ST). Marshall delegated Perkin-Elmer Corporation (now, Hughes Danbury Optical Systems) the task of developing the Optical Telescope Assembly and the Fine Guidance Sensors. Lockheed Missiles and Space Company (now, Lockheed Martin) was selected by Marshall to build the cylindrical casing and the internal support systems (the Support Systems Module) and assembling the telescope together.
NASA chose Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to be the lead in scientific instrument design and ground control for the space observatory. Scientists were organized into "Instrument Definition Teams" which would translate scientific aims into scientific devices and incorporate them into the space telescope housing. After an announcement was made to the astronomy community, proposals were received and judged, and five devices were selected as the initial instruments that would be aboard the Space Telescope: the Faint Object Camera, the Wide Field/Planetary Camera, the Faint Object Spectrograph, the High Resolution Spectrograph, and the High Speed Photometer.
The Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida supplied Space Shuttle support. In all, dozens of contractors, a handful of universities, and several NASA centers, spanning 21 states and 12 other countries worldwide, made the dream of a telescope above the clouds and in space a reality.
In 1983, the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) was established at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The staff of STScI evaluated proposals for telescope time and managed the resulting telescope observations. A number of delays stemming from underestimating the costs and engineering requirements of the state-of-the-art telescope caused the launch date to be moved from December 1983 to the second half of 1986. NASA re-examined interfaces, instruments, and assemblies. The building of the Optical Telescope Assembly encountered engineering challenges. Scientific instruments, like the Wide Field/Planetary Camera (WF/PC), underwent redesign, removing weight and redundancy.
Image to the left: Image of the Hubble Space Telescope with a sun flare on one of the solar panel's. Credit: NASA
Hubble is Born
In regards to the maintenance and upgrading of the space telescope, plans were made to conduct servicing missions in orbit versus returning the telescope to Earth and refurbishing it on the ground. It was an innovative concept that would be even easier on a budget. In the midst of this spirit of renovation, the Space Telescope was renamed the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). By 1985, the telescope was assembled and ready for launch.
However, in 1986 disaster struck. The Challenger accident forced NASA to ground the Space Shuttle fleet for two years. However, these were years well spent by the HST Project. Solar panels were improved with new solar cell technology. The aft shroud was modified to make instrument replacement during servicing easier. Computers and communication systems were upgraded. The HST was subjected to further stress tests in the harsh environments of liftoff and space.
Finally, on April 24, 1990, the Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from earth with the Hubble Space Telescope nestled securely in its bay. The following day, Hubble was released into space, ready to peer into the vast unknown of space, offering mankind a glimpse upon distant, exotic cosmic shores yet to be described.