What should we do with the retired Hubble?

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Phobos

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(1) Go ahead and save it with the shuttle.
(2) Keep it in orbit (maintenance missions).
(3) Let it burn up in the atmosphere.
(4) Other.

Heard this question posed on a radio talk show. The original plan was that, once its performance period was done*, a shuttle mission would be sent up to retrieve the Hubble and bring it back to Earth so that it could be displayed in the Smithsonian Museum. But now with the Challanger and Columbia accidents behind us, is the risk worth it?

* - hopefully it still has many good years of service left
 

davenn

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(1) Go ahead and save it with the shuttle.
(2) Keep it in orbit (maintenance missions).
(3) Let it burn up in the atmosphere.
(4) Other.

Heard this question posed on a radio talk show. The original plan was that, once its performance period was done*, a shuttle mission would be sent up to retrieve the Hubble and bring it back to Earth so that it could be displayed in the Smithsonian Museum. But now with the Challanger and Columbia accidents behind us, is the risk worth it?

* - hopefully it still has many good years of service left

updating this old post (2003) with a reply


As of 2019, the HST is still operating even after the shuttle missions ceased in 2011
From that wiki article, the HST is expected to last another 10 - 20 years (barring a systems failure)


Dave
 

Grinkle

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Let Hubble's orbit decay. I would find it fitting that Hubble's last data point for us be a reminder that nothing lasts forever.

Moreover, if the cross product of space program funding and space program priority results in green-lighting the retrieval of something that has become space junk in order to put it into the Smithsonian, then for me at least it calls into question the general value of doing any manned / involved space missions. Would that be the best thing we could come up with to do? I hope not.
 

marcusl

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It’s a big tube, right? We could fill it with beer so future travelers can stop and enjoy a cold one on their way to Mars.
 

davenn

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It’s a big tube, right? We could fill it with beer so future travelers can stop and enjoy a cold one on their way to Mars.

sounds like a plan :biggrin:
 
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If it could fit into the X37, then it cold be brought back to Earth.
 
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Hubble brought us new insights into the universe but I feel the James Webb telescope will also have just as big if not a bigger impact, does that mean we should save every space telescope we build from here on?
 

sophiecentaur

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does that mean we should save every space telescope we build from here on?
Fetching it down in one piece when it dies would be too expensive but, as with all space debris, it would be best if it could be brought out of orbit and dumped in the sea. Imo, it should be a requirement of any mission that the facility of bringing it down eventually should be included in the system price - an expensive job.. Difficult to police a thing like that, though. Until someone gets killed up there and the culprit can be positively identified, there would be no incentive.
 
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Imo, it should be a requirement of any mission that the facility of bringing it down eventually should be included in the system price - an expensive job.
Some countries have requirements that go in that direction - for low Earth orbits. Satellites must demonstrate that they can deorbit actively or that they will deorbit from atmospheric drag within a reasonable timescale. For geostationary orbits this would need way too much fuel. They are moved to graveyard orbits - that way they don't disturb the operational satellites any more.
There is always a risk that propulsion of a satellite fails. In that case it is likely to end up as junk if it doesn't deorbit passively.

Hubble will deorbit on its own over time if nothing is done with it. A recovery mission would be much more expensive than deliberate deorbiting, and even that is more expensive (or reduces Hubble's lifetime) than just waiting for it to deorbit.
 

sophiecentaur

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Satellites must demonstrate that they can deorbit actively or that they will deorbit from atmospheric drag within a reasonable timescale.
I should have thought that a long 'drag' or 'sea anchor equivalent' could be deployed in LEO and that would only weigh a few hundred grammes (depending on the satellite mass. That sort of thing must have been considered frequently and atmospheric braking was used for a Mars landing.
The D-sat cubsat seems to incorporate a thruster in its design, to bring the satellite down - but the necessary mass of a thruster system would be pro rata with the satellite and would not be cheap for a big satellite.
Trouble is that this is very much a Cinderella topic and, unlike launches, no good as a public spectacle.
 

Grinkle

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This is OT, but I find myself wondering why man-made space junk is noticable given that we have been putting junk into orbit for ~70 years and nature has been sending junk to potentially be captured in earth orbit for 4 billion years. If the amount of natural detritus over 4B years that has managed to end up in some stable earth orbit does not vastly outnumber the amount of man made, why is it so?
 

sophiecentaur

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This is OT, but I find myself wondering why man-made space junk is noticable given that we have been putting junk into orbit for ~70 years and nature has been sending junk to potentially be captured in earth orbit for 4 billion years. If the amount of natural detritus over 4B years that has managed to end up in some stable earth orbit does not vastly outnumber the amount of man made, why is it so?
Good point there. I think the 'explanation' is the way we are looking at it. Naturally circular orbits are in the minority and the LEO height lies between pretty specific limits. Also satellites use station keeping to keep them there. Hence there are a lot of them there, ready to be 'junk' when they run down.
But your question does give cause for thought. Murphy's law would mean that it's a piece of rock that wipes out a vital mission up there.
 
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Tethers in space are difficult and have a high rate of failure.

All the orbital debris comes from rockets deliberately entering orbit. Without propulsion, going from an unbound state to an orbit needs a three-body interaction (here: with the Moon), this rarely leads to an orbit, and even less rarely to a stable orbit. A stable orbit near Earth? Forget it. In addition, things in low Earth orbit have drag and deorbit quickly over geological timescales.
 

sophiecentaur

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@mfb three very good points well put!
 
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Use the Hubble until it STB.
We've already paid for it, so might as well use it till it boots to a BSoD.
Sure, there are newer, better telescopes out there.
But Hubble is still better than anything on Earth, so there will be a line of scientists willing to use it still.

I say that as long as it is practical to operate, find scientists who can rent time on it like any other telescope.

Question is: what would fail first?
 
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But Hubble is still better than anything on Earth, so there will be a line of scientists willing to use it still.
It was never the best in terms of light collection and it has been surpassed in terms of resolution and opening angle. In addition cameras on Earth have been progressing faster than the upgrades to Hubble and there is a much larger variety available. Hubble can make longer continuous observations, but describing it as "better than anything on Earth" is misleading. It still has a high demand because time at the big Earth-based telescopes is horribly overbooked as well.
 
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This is OT, but I find myself wondering why man-made space junk is noticable given that we have been putting junk into orbit for ~70 years and nature has been sending junk to potentially be captured in earth orbit for 4 billion years. If the amount of natural detritus over 4B years that has managed to end up in some stable earth orbit does not vastly outnumber the amount of man made, why is it so?
It is hard to put stuff in stable orbits if you haven't done the math, and the Gods prefer throwing rocks to calculus. Minor planets usually move with too high relative velocities, nearly nothing can slow them down and simultaneously put them on right trajectory. They usually just fly by the planets, changing their orbits more or less. Or crash into them. But capture actually happens from time to time and Earth can get temporary satellite. For example 2006 RH120 circled the Earth about four times 12 years ago, before returning to heliocentric orbit. It is due to return in 9 years.

However, the Moon is a harsh mistress and she doesn't like to share – lunar gravity ejects captured objects from the system or puts them onto collision trajectories. It is far more likely that our satellites are destroyed by manmade stuff, or – if you consider natural detritus – a tiny space rock that was just passing by. But back on topic, shattering Hubble to thousands of pieces of space debris would not be the preferred way to end the mission.
 
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