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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 19:37 GMT
Hubble mission is 'wonderful news'
By Gavin Thomas
BBC News

WFC3 (Nasa)
The WFC3 incorporates UK camera-detector technology
The decision to send the Discovery shuttle to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been loudly cheered by astronomers in Britain.

Mike Disney, an emeritus professor within the department of astrophysics at Cardiff University, said he was "ecstatic".

Professor Disney is one of the designers of the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which will be fitted by astronauts during the mission scheduled to fly in 2008.

"I was at the Space Telescope Science Institute two weeks ago - this is what we've all be waiting for. It's wonderful news," he told BBC News.

The new camera was first due to be fitted in 2004, but a servicing mission was cancelled after the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003.

Hubble has been such a fantastic science machine for more than 15 years
Martin Barstow, Leicester University
"This new camera is much more powerful and will give the telescope a whole new lease of life, allowing us to study objects that are much hotter and cooler.

"It's also equipped with the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph which will study the space between the galaxies, which makes up 99.9% of the Universe."

European input

Professor Disney started work on the WFC3 in the late 1990s after first becoming involved in the Hubble project in 1976.

He is a member of the steering group that made the design decisions - a mainly US team. He is currently involved in a study of three young galaxies using imagery gathered by the HST.

Hubble Space Telescope  Image: Nasa
Named after the great US astronomer Edwin Hubble
Launched in 1990 into a 600km-high circular orbit
Equipped with a 2.4m primary mirror and five instruments
Length: 15.9m; diameter: 4.2m; Mass: 11,110kg
Observations have probed about 24,000 celestial objects
Has made more than 93,000 trips around our planet
Generates about 10 gigabytes of data each day
"It's worth pointing out that the main detector in the new camera is also British - developed by GEC-Marconi (now E2V Technologies) at Chelmsford in Essex. The most crucial thing - the telescope's main eye - will be British," he added.

"I'm just looking forward to seeing the imagery."

The servicing mission will prolong the life of the observatory until at least 2013.

As well as the new camera and spectrograph, astronauts will fit new batteries, gyroscopes and thermal blankets in a series of spacewalks.

The Hubble telescope is a co-operative mission between the US space agency and the European Space Agency (Esa), with the latter having about a 15% stake in the project.

This has guaranteed European astronomers access to observatory time.

Public interest

Professor Martin Barstow from Leicester University is an Esa representative on the telescope's Users Committee, and he said Nasa's decision to go ahead with the servicing came as a huge relief.

"We've actually been preparing for this for over year, so to finally get the go ahead is wonderful news.

See how the Discovery shuttle will grapple Hubble

"Hubble has been such a fantastic science machine for more than 15 years. We've got new instrument technology and by putting that onboard we can do even more powerful things with Hubble than we were able to do in the past," Professor Barstow told BBC News.

The English Astronomer Royal, Professor Sir Martin Rees, was chairman of Esa's scientific advisory committee when the decision was taken to collaborate with Nasa on the telescope.

He also sat on a panel to examine how the science of astronomy would be best served in the transition from Hubble to its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which should be launched in the next decade.

Professor Rees said Hubble still had much to offer.

"It's true that some of the things Hubble did can be done by ground telescopes in a more cost effective, but it still does have unique capabilities for getting beautiful sharp images; and if you look at what has attracted public interest to the Nasa programme, it has been more than anything else Hubble."

Professor Rees said the one concern for scientists would be the impact of the cost of servicing on other Nasa activities, and they would be following keenly the agency's accounting.

"What would concern us is if this has too big an impact on other unmanned parts of Nasa's programme, or if it delays other parts of Nasa's science unduly," he explained.

Hubble diagram
Shuttle Discovery will grab Hubble with a robotic arm and pull it on to a work platform to allow astronauts easy access to its interior
Hubble has six gyroscopes that are critical to its control and pointing systems. These have started to fail and all will have to be replaced
Six new batteries will rejuvenate the electrical system; astronauts will attach new thermal blankets to insulate sensitive components
The telescope has two instrument bays; the COS and WFC3 will be slid into racks made vacant by the removal of older instruments
An attempt will also be made to repair the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) which stopped working in 2004

Nasa chief Mike Griffin announces the mission

Hubble telescope will get upgrade
31 Oct 06 |  Science/Nature
Nasa to decide Hubble's fate
26 Oct 06 |  Science/Nature
Hubble trouble pressures shuttle
28 Jun 06 |  Science/Nature
Nasa spending to support shuttle
07 Feb 06 |  Science/Nature

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