White House cuts Hubble from budget

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Hubble Space Telescope seen from Shuttle Discovery

A senior administration official, speaking anonymously, confirmed on Friday that the proposed NASA budget for the 2006 fiscal year will not contain additional funding for a Hubble servicing mission. The budget plan is to be announced Feb. 7.

The White House eliminated funding for a service mission the Hubble Space Telescope from its 2006 budget request and directed NASA to focus on deorbiting the spacecraft at the end of its life, according to government and industry sources [1].

Intensive work has been under way at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to develop telerobotic servicing skills for the Hubble Space Telescope in the event that a space shuttle crew is never again sent to the orbiting facility. Aerospace firms in the United States and in Canada have teamed with NASA to develop a Hubble Robotic Vehicle Deorbit Module.

"Excellent progress is being made on a telerobotic approach to servicing the Hubble," said Jim Crocker, vice president of civil space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver. The firm has supported NASA's planning and, later, the repair and servicing of the HST with four space shuttle missions to date.

The telerobotics team at work at Goddard Space Flight Center "have a good shot at pulling this off," Crocker told SPACE.com the day before the Space News story on the White House HST decision appeared [2].

The estimated $1 billion plus cost for a robotic or shuttle servicing mission is considered too high by the White House in light of higher priority missions such as the shuttle "return to flight" project and NASA's "moon, Mars and beyond [3]."

The anonymous U.S. official told Reuters the estimated cost of a robotic repair was $2 billion and one feasibility study gave it an 80 percent chance of failure [4].

"Hubble is in year 14 of a planned 15-year mission," the official said. "Trying to send a robotic mission to extend that time period would be a $2 billion gamble with taxpayer dollars where the odds are 80-20 that it would fail."

Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) released the following statement January 25 condemning reports about eliminating funds to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble Space Telescope is managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center which is located in Congressman Hoyer's district.

"I am very concerned about reports that the Bush Administration may eliminate federal funds to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope from its budget for fiscal year 2006. Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Telescope's state of the art technology has dramatically changed our understanding of the universe and produced thousands of extraordinary discoveries [5]."