The world faces a dilemma: how to keep the flow of
science and discovery from the ailing
Telescope alive. According to an international team led
by Johns Hopkins University astronomers, one answer may lie
not in a robot-led or manned repair mission but through the
launch of a brand new free-flying telescope called the
Hubble Origins Probe.
"During the past 15 years, Hubble discoveries have
rewritten the textbooks from which our children learn.
Though we support any option that will maintain the Hubble
mission, the Hubble Origins Probe is a viable choice not
only for continuing that tradition of discovery but also
for taking it one step further," said Colin Norman, one of
the leaders of the team, during testimony before the U.S.
House of Representatives Committee on Science on Feb. 2.
Intended to replicate and to improve upon the design
of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Hubble Origins Probe
offers an option that is low on risk yet high on scientific
returns, according to Norman, principal investigator for
the team that also includes Johns Hopkins astronomers
Holland Ford, Warren Moos and Tim Heckman.
For instance, HOP would make use of instruments
— the Cosmic Origins Spectograph and the Wide Field
Camera 3 — originally built to be installed on Hubble
during its fourth service mission. In addition, it would
include a new Very Wide-Field Imager that would "greatly
enhance the original science mission of Hubble," Norman
That Very Wide-Field Imager, slated to be built in
collaboration with Japanese partners who will underwrite
the cost, will allow scientists to map the heavens more
than 20 times faster than even a refurbished Hubble Space
Telescope could, Norman said. What's more, the new Japanese
camera will be open for use by the worldwide astronomical
community based on a peer review system in the same way
that all Hubble instruments have been.
Norman told the committee that it would take an
estimated 65 months and $1 billion to launch HOP, which he
stated would continue and even expand upon the flow of
science and discovery that has made the original Hubble
Space Telescope a "national treasure."
"The groundbreaking science, the cutting-edge
technology generated in the development of new
instrumentation, the ability of Hubble science to engage
the interest of the public and its impact on the
imagination of students, makes it worthwhile to invest this
sum of public funds to complete the last chapter of
Hubble's remarkable legacy," Norman said. "We believe that
the intellectual legacy of HOP would be invaluable. HOP
will inspire and motivate young scientists and engineers,
helping seed America with the human capital so vital for
the long-term strength of our economy."
Though either of the other two options (a robot-led
mission or a manned repair mission using a space shuttle)
would also allow the tradition of Hubble-generated science
to continue, HOP is unique in that it is not dependent upon
manned servicing, robotic technology or the need to reach
Hubble Space Telescope before its demise. Most exciting of
all, however, is that HOP would enable a dramatic extension
of Hubble's science program via its VWFI camera.
"HOP can address three of the most central
intellectual issues of our age: the nature of dark energy,
the nature and distribution of dark matter and the
prevalence of planets, including earths, around other
stars," Norman stated. "The decision before us is obvious.
We must continue with the Hubble adventure to explore these
great questions further, to understand more fully our
remarkable universe and our place in it. We must do this
with intense determination and energy, and thus continue to
inspire new generations with the wonder and thrill of
exploration and discovery."
The Hubble Origins Probe study was funded by NASA.