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Another delay for space telescope.

Another delay for the Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope, whose launch aboard the space shuttle was set for next June, has been delayed to February 1990 in the latest revision of NASA's shuttle flight schedule. NASA had originally planned to orbit the telescope in February 1986, but grounded it in the aftermath of the Challenger explosion that Jan. 28. Just keeping the telescope on the ground in its pristine, "clean-room" condition costs the agency about $7 million a month, so the recent seven-month postponement may add some $50 million to the $1.5 billion price tag.

But some officials at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the instrument's planning and control center, see a positive side to the latest setback. A key use of the extra seven months, says institute spokesman Ray Villard, will be the continuing refinement of the Science Operations Ground System, whose software incorporates "upwards of 2 million lines of code."

Says Ed Wells, one of about 20 "operations astronomers" at the institute who will be helping to run the complex device, "We will certainly be more efficient because of this delay." One area to benefit, for example, will be the development of the telescope's ability to track moving targets such as comets, asteroids and planets. "We have software that is supposed to do that, but we're just beginning to do it. A lot of these moving target capabilities were deferred a couple of years back. We're already discovering that there are some problems with it -- finding guide stars, for example, because for moving targets we have to find guide stars that move in the field of view of the fine-guidance sensors." At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., scientists are preparing a refined ephemeris -- a mathematical description of the motions of all moving solar-system objects -- for the telescope.

In addition, Villard says, the extra time may let scientists improve their ability to use two of the telescope's five instruments at the same time, such as its Wide-Field Planetary Camera and its Faint-Object Spectrograph. Also being developed is software to let the telescope's guidance system be updated in real time so that it can track details discovered in just-taken photos of planet surfaces.
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Author:Eberhart, Jonathan
Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 10, 1988
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