- Posted April 25, 2011 by
Today marks the 21 anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope being deployed in space
April 25, 2011 marks the 21st anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) being deployed in space.
The idea for a large space telescope dates back to 1923. The National Academy of Sciences recommended building one in 1962 and construction started in 1977 after Congress approved funding. Construction was finished in 1985.
The HST was designed and built for NASA at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. PerkinElmer designed and built the Optical Telescope Assembly and Fine Guidance Sensors and British Aerospace and AEG made the two solar array wings.
The HST launch was delayed by the 1986 Challenger accident. The HST was finally launched into space by Space Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-31, April 24, 1990. The telescope was successfully deployed the next day, and has remained in orbit ever since.
One problem apparent within weeks of the HST deployment was that the photo image quality was much lower than expected. The issue was caused by PerkinElmer grinding the primary mirror to the wrong shape, being too flat at the edges by about 2,200 nanometers. An investigation by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that the contractor had ignored test results showing the problem, did not assign its best optical scientists to the project and did not involve the optical designers in the construction and verification of the mirror. Eastman Kodak, which lost the contract competition to PerkinElmer, had produced a backup mirror, but it was never fully polished and resides today at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR), built by Ball Aerospace, was installed on the HST during a servicing mission in 1993, correcting the problem. The contractor also teamed with the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy to build the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which replaced COSTAR in 2009.
Since 1990, Lockheed has managed the day-to-day spacecraft operations of the HST and provided preparation and training for telescope servicing missions along with partners IS&S, Jackson and Tull, Orbital Sciences Corporation and Honeywell Technology Solutions.
The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy holds the contract for science operations through April 13, 2013, meaning the HST will likely be in operation at least that long.
Anniversary Photo and Hubble Accomplishments
To commemorate the 21st anniversary of the HST, NASA released a photograph of Arp 273, two interacting galaxies that create a rose-like shape. The photo was taken December 17, 2010 by Wide Field Camera 3, which was constructed at Ball and the Goddard Space Flight Center. Various other contractors contributed parts to the camera.
The HST’s main accomplishments include helping NASA provide insight into:
- The age of the universe: 13.7 billion years
- The existence of supermassive black holes at the cores of nearly all galaxies
- The process of how planets are born
- The existence of organic molecules on planets outside our solar system
- The theory of dark energy and the idea that the expansion of the universe only recently began speeding up
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, "For 21 years, Hubble has profoundly changed our view of the universe, allowing us to see deep into the past while opening our eyes to the majesty and wonders around us." Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) added, "Hubble is America's gift to the world."
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Anthony Critelli follows the latest GovCon developments as news editor for GovWin.com, the network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.