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Delay in Hubble servicing mission, says NASA

The Hubble Space Telescope orbiting around earth

WASHINGTON (BNS): Unable to get the second data handling unit for the Hubble Space Telescope ready on time, NASA has said it will not be able to meet the February 2009 launch date for Shuttle's fifth and final mission.

The NASA managers made this announcement after the engineers assessed the second data handling unit for the telescope needed to fly to Hubble. The unit will replace one that failed on Hubble in late September, causing the agency to postpone the servicing mission, which had been targeted for October 14, NASA said.

Speaking to the media at NASA headquarters, Astrophysics Division Director Jon Morse said they had done enough analysis of all the things that need to happen with the flight spare unit to arrive at a decision that February launch was not possible. "The February date was an initial estimate, assuming minimal hardware preparations and test durations that are no longer viewed as realistic. We've communicated our assessment to the Space Shuttle Programme so it can adjust near-term plans. We will work closely with the Shuttle Programme to develop details for a new launch opportunity," Morse said.

"Getting ourselves in a position to be ready to launch the Hubble mission will involve many steps, and a significant one took place earlier today," said Hubble Programme Manager Preston Burch at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Md.

"We held a flight certification peer review meeting where every aspect for doing this effort -- the inspections needed, all the tests to be conducted, the certification process and the final flight preparations -- was examined. The conclusion was that we indeed have a very good plan in place," he said.

NASA managers said the Hubble flight spare, known as the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling system, has been at Goddard since it was originally delivered as a back-up system in 1991. The unit currently is undergoing testing and examination to identify and correct any problems. That work will continue until mid-December, they said.

"The unit will then undergo environmental assessments that include electro-magnetic interference checks, vibration tests, and extended time in a thermal vacuum chamber. Environmental testing is anticipated to run from mid-December to early March 2009. Final testing will be conducted on the unit, and delivery to NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida is expected in early April," they said.

Speaking about the equipment, Burch said it had a flight-proven design. "The original unit on Hubble ran for more than 18 years. We have a lot of spare parts if we encounter problems, and we have most of the same test equipment that was used with the original unit. We also have a lot of experience on our Hubble electrical replica, which uses the engineering model data handling unit."

Meanwhile, science observations on Hubble that had been suspended continue to move toward standard operations. The current primary camera on the telescope, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, was brought back online. On Wednesday, calibration images with the Advanced Camera for Surveys' Solar Blind Channel were completed. Regular science observations resumed on Thursday, and the first science image from the camera was released, NASA said.

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