It’s hard to believe, but NASA’s famed Hubble Telescope has been floating around in Earth orbit for almost 25 years — and is still plugging along well past its expiration date. But with no more repairs planned, the uber-telescope could soon meet a fiery end.
NASA’s last mission to upgrade and repair the telescope was five years ago, when a team on space shuttle STS-125 was sent on a long-delayed upgrade mission during which they also worked to correct the telescope’s orbit to keep it from crashing. Since then? Nothing.
The space agency currently has no plans to revisit Hubble, meaning when the harsh environment of space (most notably intense heat from the sun) damages the equipment this time, another repair mission is likely not in the cards. Scott Altman, the mission commander who led the last repair trip, told Popular Science they tried to do as much as possible in 2009 because they knew it’d probably be the last space walk for Hubble:
“For a lot of missions, they say don’t worry about things, we can always get that done next time, you don’t have to try and rush,” “But we knew this was the last time anyone was going, so anything we didn’t get done, wasn’t going to get done.”
Though NASA hasn’t announced definitive plans for Hubble, an upcoming mission to launch the stronger James Webb Space Telescope into orbit 900,000 miles above Earth in 2018 probably means they view the new ‘scope as Hubble’s replacement. Plus, another Hubble repair mission would be expensive, and NASA is a bit on the broke side these days.
So, assuming NASA doesn’t make another trip to Hubble, Popular Science notes the telescope can only remain in orbit another 8-10 years before crashing to Earth. Of course, much of the equipment will have probably degraded beyond use by then. Most likely result: Hubble will meet a fiery demise within the decade.
(Via Popular Science)