Hello Space Fans and welcome to another edition of Space Fan News. You may have heard that the Trump administration is looking into a possible Hubble Servicing Mission and NASA knows nothing about it and mission planners have decided that the Juno spacecraft around Jupiter will stay right where it is for the rest of the mission.
OK so I was getting ready for our monthly Future in Space Hangout yesterday when my co-host Alberto Conti mentioned something about an article that came out in the Wall Street Journal saying that the Trump Administration was considering a proposal by a company called Sierra Nevada to do another servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope.
The report says that the idea is to provide an insurance policy in case something goes wrong with the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched late next year.
And, coincidentally, yesterday’s hangout was on the Hubble Space Telescope and we had members of NASA’s Hubble mission on hand to ask about it, and here is what Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, Senior Project Scientist for Hubble had to say.
I’m not quite sure what’s going on here but even if NASA was planning another servicing mission for Hubble, it would be very expensive and very far off and October 2018 (the scheduled launch time of JWST which is only a little over a year away). Also remember that Hubble was designed specifically to be handled by the Space Shuttle, so any servicing mission would almost certainly be a manned one, rather than robotic.
That is, if they wanted to do any meaningful upgrades. As the last servicing mission showed in 2009, they are pretty tricky things that require more than a robotic arm to perform. A robotic craft might be good enough to push Hubble up to a higher orbit or maybe correct a tumbling attitude, but a full on servicing mission is going to need humans.
Sierra Nevada is building their Dream Catcher vehicle which they say is designed to create low-cost, safe and reliable transportation services to and from low-Earth orbit destinations, including the International Space Station.
And, it well Hubble too, I guess.
I’m also not certain of the timeline for the Dream Catcher being ready (like, for before JWST launch) but I’ll look into it and let you know.
The servicing mission mentioned in the report this week is very light on details so I can’t give you more than what I’ve told you, still, while NASA has no plans yet in the works for a servicing mission to Hubble, like Jennifer Wiseman, I’m encouraged that there are ideas being floated out there. As space becomes more and more in the hands of business, I predict we’ll see more innovative ideas like this.
And you’re never gonna hear me say no to another Hubble upgrade, no way, no how!
Next, mission planners for the Juno mission around Jupiter have decided to keep the spacecraft right where it is. Juno arrived at the gas giant on July 4th and when it arrived NASA put it in a 53 day polar orbit that was designed to study the planet like never before.
The plan was that after they got there and put it in the 53 day orbit, it would go around twice, then they were going to fire the thrusters that would have reduced the spacecraft's orbital period to 14 days.
But I reported to you back in October that two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft's main engine didn’t operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized.
Telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that it took several minutes for the valves to open, while it took only a few seconds during past main engine firings. So that was worrisome.
So NASA did a review and looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit.
So instead of risking the completion of the science objectives, they decided to keep Juno where it is in its 53 day orbit.
There is a bright side to this however. This higher orbit allows Juno to do some science it wouldn’t ordinarily have gotten to do. Juno will further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere -- the region of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field -- including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause.
And another great thing is that the higher orbit keeps the spacecraft out of the strong radiation belts on each orbit. This is huge because radiation has been the main life-limiting factor for Juno. So the instruments onboard may be able to last longer as well.
All in all a very good thing and NASA says that Juno can still accomplish all of the science goals it set out to do even though it will have fewer orbits. So no lost science!
Juno will continue to operate within the current budget plan through July 2018, for a total of 12 science orbits. The team can then propose to extend the mission during the next science review cycle. The review process evaluates proposed mission extensions on the merit and value of previous and anticipated science returns.
Juno has been around Jupiter four times now, the last one on February 2nd, the next one will be on March 27th.
Here is a pic from the last February 2nd flyby. With each pass, Juno gets as close as 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers) above the planet allowing it to study the atmosphere in great detail This image was taken directly over Jupiter's south pole when JunoCam acquired this image on February 2, 2017, from an altitude of about 62,800 miles (101,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops.
Well that’s it for this week Space Fans, thanks so much to all SFN Patreon Patrons you guys rock. I keep promising a contest and it really is imminent, I’m just looking for some time to set it up so look for it soon. Thanks to all of you for watching and as always, Keep Looking Up!