It seems that the planned space shuttle mission to bring the Hubble back to earth at the end of the decade has already been cancelled. I hadn’t seen that, but I’m not surprised. Also, the planned mission to service the Hubble, orignally scheduled for next year, is in jeopardy. NASA is now planning to deorbit (kill) the Hubble in 2010. While I always thought the plan to bring the Hubble back was a little out there, I’m not sure if scrapping the service mission is such a good idea. Currently, NASA plans to have the James Webb Space Telescope launched aboard an ESA Ariane 5 rocket (don’t even get me started on that) in 2011. Why not run one more mission to the Hubble, make a few minor upgrades to gyros and other troublsome components, top off the tanks, and let it run for as long as possible? Even if it runs for years beyond the launch of the Webb telescope, there shouldn’t be any shortage of requests for time on the Hubble. Why not, then?
Because of the space shuttle.
The shuttle currently costs about $760 million per flight to operate, and that’s surely going to increase significantly once the Columbia Accident Investigation Board is through with it. That is a hell of a lot of money to fly a limited-capability launch vehicle with a spotty record. The Hubble is toast before it needs to be and we’re putting its replacement into orbit onboard a European rocket.
All because we decided to build a space shuttle at the expense of everything else in the manned program. At least that International Space Station project (which is the only reason the shuttle has for existence, any more) is going so well.