Shuttle crew finds Hubble in poor shape
They noticed that one of the myopic telescope's solar- power panels was badly twisted just before Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier hauled it into the Endeavour's cargo bay at the end of a 50ft robot arm.
It complicates the 11-day repair flight - billed as a make- or-break mission - not just for the short-sighted telescope, but for Nasa. Yesterday's operation was critical, as there was only enough fuel and time for one attempt to grab the telescope.
Hubble's two 12-metre-long solar arrays, built by British Aerospace, must be replaced because they vibrate due to temperature changes as they move in and out of sunlight.
The crew will attempt to roll in the bent array at the end of their first space walk today. Jeff Hoffman and Story Musgrave will first fit two new gyroscope units. Only three of the original six gyroscopes, used to point the pounds 1bn telescope in the right direction, are working.
The hope is that the twisted array will wind into its storage cassette successfully. However, one of the crippled panel's support rods is almost flattened in one section, so it is not clear that the winding mechanism will cope. The crew aim to fit a new pair of more stable panels. Stephen Young, editor of Astronomy Now, said yesterday: 'The array on the right-hand side has buckled badly. The bent arm may fold up, but it is in pretty poor shape, so it could cause the whole array to jam.'
If this happens, the six-man, one-woman crew could jettison the faulty arm, although Nasa is keen to get both panels back so it can see how they have been affected by three years in space.
Despite this hiccup, the five planned spacewalks remain as scheduled. The astronauts will roll in the twisted array before the good one. That way, they should be able to unfurl the good panel if they have to repeat the operation. If this fails, they may take the telescope through temperature changes by putting it in and out of sunlight - hoping that the array will bend back into shape.
Lobbing the arrays overboard takes time, since it is hard to disconnect the array with the panels open. It would also require an extra space walk, restricting the crew's options if anything else crops up.
Hubble went into orbit in April 1990, but was soon found to have flaws, including a misshapen main mirror that blurred the images sent back.
The mission's principal aim is to fit corrective optics for the main mirror. If the new 'spectacles' work Hubble should be able to fulfil all its objectives - chief of which is to determine the age and size of the universe.
As it is now, it can make out objects only 4 billion light-years away, just one-third of the intended distance. For maximum success, the crew must complete all seven tasks, otherwise a second shuttle may be sent up.
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
- 3 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 4 Julian Assange and Edward Snowden join piracy mogul Kim Dotcom’s political campaign in New Zealand
- 5 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Thailand deaths: Pair's bloodied bodies found naked on Koh Tao beach
Jihadi John': MI5 may have identified Isis militant who killed David Haines but options limited
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: Police will be on high alert on Friday whatever the result
David Haines beheading: David Cameron says Britain will hunt down Isis 'monsters' shown in video murdering aid worker
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
Salmond accused of laughing off national debt with ‘what are they going to do: invade?’ joke
£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...
£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...
£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Year 4 Teacher - NestonRandsta...