Re-take: That was then… for Hubble

By Ed Peck, CNN • Updated 23rd October 2010 After a brief appearance in a photo taken by Hubble, NASA's space telescope has been taken back into safe mode. If you blinked, you missed…

Re-take: That was then... for Hubble

By Ed Peck, CNN • Updated 23rd October 2010

After a brief appearance in a photo taken by Hubble, NASA’s space telescope has been taken back into safe mode.

If you blinked, you missed it. Hubble is typically out of commission about once a year for planned maintenance and upgrade projects. It has been out of action for almost two weeks.

A large panel of the solar array sleeve that feeds power to the telescope, known as the sunshield, snapped off in bad weather at the orbiting observatory. The panel will be replaced when weather conditions improve, according to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The sunshield was shot up as part of the 14-year mission, launched aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. It was on the back side of the telescope and temporarily covered the entire solar array, but astronomers aren&aposve been able to take pictures of its development and construction by analyzing images captured by Hubble ‘s main camera.

NASA’s website, http://nasa.gov/thatsastern/htp/heliospyshop/hw/hs-sunshield.htm , offers several images of the sunshield.

“This is a reminder of just how fragile these instruments are,” said Jani Koskinen, director of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When you launch a spacecraft and it comes back, it is fragile. The main goal is to make it as safe as possible.”

Now the team is looking at several alternatives for the sunshield, for which there is no backup.

They could try to refold the solar shield, which was not physically retrieved by astronauts, but the team felt that would prove too difficult. One suggestion is to reattach the solar panel at its present location, but that, Koskinen said, would take far too long.

The team is focused on the most recent images from Hubble, Koskinen said.

“But it is not only about image resolution,” she said. “A lot of information comes with those images that we don’t know yet from Hubble. Some of it was invisible when it was on the ground.”

In July, Hubble ‘s team released photos of a fainter object than usual, more than 100 times smaller than what Hubble had spotted in the past. It turned out to be a piece of iron from the old moon, Galileo. The rock was embedded deep in Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

NASA’s Hubble missions are taking place at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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