Shuttle service missions to Hubble Space Telescope cancelled. Hubble destined to degrade into uselessness.
That’s what’s been reported and lamented.
But is the shuttle the only imaginable way to service Hubble? I can’t tell exactly how big the two items that had been scheduled for installation are, but the failing gyroscopes which seem most critical to replace are downright tiny.
This AP story uncritically reports that Hubble is doomed, while containing a passage hinting that custom robots could alter Hubble’s fate:
[NASA Chief Scientist] Grunsfeld said the Hubble control team will attempt to extend the life of the telescope, but the gyros will degrade. He also said that while the batteries on the craft are constantly recharged, they eventually “will run out of juice.”
The Hubble will eventually fall out of orbit and crash to Earth, probably in 2011 or 2012. To make that event safe, Grunsfeld said, NASA will design and build a small robot craft that will be launched and guided to the Hubble.
The robot craft would “grab the Hubble and bring it into the atmosphere in a controlled manner,” he said, guiding the school-bus-sized craft to harmlessly splash into a remote part of an ocean.
I may be way off base, but if a custom robotic craft can grab Hubble and guide it down, a more complex robotic craft ought to be able to swap Hubble’s gyros and batteries. Even Honda’s anthropomorphic concept-robot ASIMO has grasping hands with four fingers and a thumb.
NASA should challenge leading outside robotics/teleoperation outfits to propose novel solutions. Test the proposals competitively against the same groundside Hubble replica(s) that astronauts use for training.
And if any entries have a credible chance of success, send the best one on a free ride to Hubble.
It’s worth a try!
Astromech droids have been used since a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Could one work here?