NASA inspects Atlantis heat shield, preps for Hubble rendezvous

Chicago (IL) – NASA astronauts have deployed a robotic arm and sensor to inspect critical areas of the thermal system protecting the space shuttle Atlantis.

The survey, which includes an analysis of the nose and wing leading edges, is reportedly following standard post-launch procedure. Relevant data has been relayed to shuttle imagery experts in Mission Control for analysis.

STS-125 crew members have also begun preparing for Wednesday’s rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope by inspecting spacesuits and tools slated for use during Hubble’s repair.

As TG Daily previously reported, Hubble was placed into orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery in April 1990. Since then, the telescope has undergone four servicing missions to repair various systems and flaws. However, the May spacewalks should allow Hubble to function until at least 2014, when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is due to be launched.

NASA has planned five spacewalks to replace and repair a variety of items, including thermal blankets, gyroscopes, batteries and subsystems. 

  • Flight day (FD) 4: Astronauts will replace Hubble’s wide field camera and a malfunctioning science data processing computer. 
  • FD 5: Three boxes will be replaced, each containing two of the telescope’s six gyroscopes and three batteries. 
  • FD 6: Crew members plan to install the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. The instrument replaces COSTAR, the corrective optics package first installed on the first Hubble servicing mission. The astronauts are also expected to conduct repairs on the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which has experienced power failures, causing two of the telescope’s three observing channels to stop operating. 
  • FD 7: The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph will be repaired, while a stainless steel blanket is placed over Hubble’s exterior. The blankets provide additional thermal protection for certain equipment bays, replacing the existing multi-layer insulation that has degraded over time.  
  • FD 8: Crew members plan to install the final set of batteries for the telescope and replace a critical calibration sensor. 

Atlantis lifted off at 2:01 p.m. EDT Monday from Kennedy Space Center, Fla. STS-125 is the 126th space shuttle flight, the 30th flight for Atlantis and the second flight in 2009.