It’s not yet official, but NASA appears to have all the elements in place for the approval of STS-125, Shuttle Discovery’s mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
HST SM-04 is currently set to launch early in 2008, but may move up to 2007. Discovery will be commanded by Scott Altman. The mission has officially been recommended to have a unique LON (Launch On Need) rescue mission on standby.
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UPDATES: NASA looking at potentially using Atlantis on a sixth manifest flight for OV-104 on STS-125. Mission will enable future deorbit of Hubble.
Major concerns over the deteriorating health of the space telescope led to a section of the engineering community claiming that Hubble will not last past the first half of 2008, due to failing gyros. These concerns were raised at the two meetings, one on Wednesday and again today, the latter with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin in attendance.
STS-125 – currently tagged the ‘Flight of Opportunity’ on Shuttle mission manifests – will gain an official announcement to the public next Tuesday at the Goddard Space Flight Center, although multiple sources claim the mission is now on.
The LON requirement – different to all current LON plans due to the lack of ‘safe haven’ from the International Space Station (ISS) – will involve another orbiter being placed on standby, launching to the stricken Discovery, in the event of critical damage to her TPS (Thermal Protection System).
Discovery, reserving power and consumables in a lifeboat state, would be approached by the rescue orbiter, before grappling of each orbiter’s robotic arms would adjoin the two vehicles, ahead of a series of spacewalks to transfer the Hubble crew to the rescue ship.
The risk to the Hubble crew was also one of the main topics of discussion at the meetings. An insight into the risk being mitigated by on orbit capabilities and LON support was noted in a document dated October 26, which was presented to the PRCB (Program Requirements Control Board).
‘STS-125: Debris mitigation, inspection, repair, LON/CSCS capability make HST mission risk equivalent to STS-115 mission risk,’ noted the document. ‘LON provides significant portion of overall risk reduction (~15 percent).
‘Recommend retaining LON capability (for STS-125).’
Sources also note that Discovery will carry a passive LIDS (Low Impact Docking System) to be attached to Hubble’s aft bulkhead. The requirement is to provide a capability to enable a future spacecraft to perform an autonomous rendezvous and docking with Hubble. This can be used for a future deorbit mission, or even another servicing mission via Orion.
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Assigned to STS-125 – according to sources – is Commander Scott Altman, who commanded STS-109, which was the last servicing mission with Columbia in 2002.
Discovery’s pilot is understood to be Ray J Johnson, with Hubble servicing veteran’s John Grunsfeld and Mike Massimino also making the flight. Another name mentioned was Megan McArthur – who has been deeply involved with recent Hubble work, as well as Drew Feustel.
NASA is currently holding any official announcement back until Tuesday, even internal e-mails only note the upcoming announcement. The media event will be covered live on NASA TV.
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