Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope, which has helped us to view the depths of space, just celebrated 25 successful years in 2015. Hubble telescope has global recognition. Even Hubble is from a different technological era, it continues to produce dazzling science. The telescope has snapped more than 5, 70,000 pictures from Ultraviolet to Infrared i.e., multi-wavelength electromagnetic spectrum. At its current pace, the Hubble space telescope produces 10TB of new data per year. Scientists have written around 13,000 scientific papers by using data from Hubble space telescope. Hubble has provided spectacular views of the cosmos. It also revealed the mystery of the universe by making amazing discoveries. It has been flexible, adaptable and expandable.

In last quarter of the century, trailblazing observations have done with Hubble telescope and most astronomers would agree that the Hubble Space Telescope is the most scientifically productive spacecraft ever launched.

Initially, Hubble launched on 24 April 1990 to capture images from space and transmit them back to earth, but it could possible from a long journey. The basic idea for a space telescope was found in book “Die Rakete zu den Planetenraumen” (The Rocket into Planetary Space), written by German scientist Hermann Oberthwho is one of the three fathers of modern rocketry. He wrote how a telescope could be propelled into Earth orbit by a rocket. The American astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer wrote benefits of space based telescope by suggesting a large telescope with multiple wavelengths.

The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO) satellites were placed in space by NASA between 1966 and 1972, which provided high-quality ultraviolet observations. Then what will be the next step? Spitzer gathered the support for large orbital telescope and the National Academy of Sciences gave approval for the Large Space Telescope (LST) project in 1969 and a decision to build a space telescope with a 120-inch mirror was taken. After Armstrong’s first step on the moon in 1969, funding for NASA space programs gradually decreased which affected on the LST program and decided to decrease the size of the primary mirror to 94.5 inches and the number of scientific instruments.

The concept of the Space Shuttle was born from the decision by NASA and its supporting industrial partners to develop such vehicle which could deploy the LST into space and return back to earth so that it can be used reused repeatedly.

NASA suggested 15 years lifetime for this space telescope with the ability to be replaced instruments on the ground or even serviced in orbit. Scientists also had major role to balance the size, quality and quantity of scientific instruments against projected cost. The European Space Agency (ESA) joined LST project and provided fifteen percent of the funding via contribution of the solar arrays and Faint Object Camera (FOC) instrument in 1975. European astronomers got fifteen percent of time for observation.

Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama was chosen by NASA for design and develop Space Telescope (ST) which then renamed from Large Space Telescope (LST). Perkin-Elmer Corporation got the opportunity to develop the telescope’s primary mirror and its assembly and the Fine Guidance Sensors while The Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. got responsibility to build the spacecraft. Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland chosen for scientific instrument design and ground control of space observatory. Initially, five instruments were selected for the Space Telescope which were namely the Faint Object Camera (FOC), the Wide Field/Planetary Camera (WFPC), the Faint Object Spectrograph (FOS), the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS), and the High Speed Photometer (HSP).

The mirror completion was done in 1981, two years before a planned launch in December 1983. A number of problems caused the launch date to be moved to the October of 1986. NASA re-examined interfaces, instruments, and assemblies. Meanwhile, Space Telescope renamed as Hubble Space Telescope.

But drama not yet finished.

However, on 28th Jan 1986 disaster struck. The shuttle Challenger was destroyed in an accident and its investigation extended for two years. However, these were years solar panels were improved with new solar cell technology and the aft shroud was modified to make instrument replacement easily while servicing. Communication systems and computers were also upgraded. Now valued at some $1.5 billion.

Finally, to enormous fanfare and stratospheric expectations, Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard the shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.