Hubble trouble

The Hubble Space Telescope could soon be destroyed by NASA following its 2006 budget outline, announced this week.

Despite an increase in the agency’s budget of 2.4 per cent from 2005 to $16.5bn (£9bn), it will not be enough to cover the cost of repairing the telescope. Just $93m (£50m) has been allocated to Hubble in the outline, of which around $75m (£40m) will be needed to bring it back to earth.

In December a panel of experts concluded that astronauts would be preferable to robots in a potential mission to service the telescope, but that has been deemed too difficult following the safety recommendations of the Columbia accident investigation board.

NASA controller Steve Isakowitz said the agency is planning a robotic mission to prepare the satellite for decommissioning by steering it into the ocean.

Many astronomers believe Hubble still has years of observation ahead of it. They hope that Congress, which has to approve the budget, will insist on money being found to retain it.

In January 2004 President Bush announced his vision for space exploration, geared around a return to the moon by 2020. This will lead to budget increases of 17 per cent for both lunar and Mars robotic exploration and the Explorer space programme.

This has invariably led to cutbacks in other areas of research. Despite the overall budget increase aeronautics will have its funding cut from $852m (£459m) in 2006 to an estimated $718m (£387m) in 2010. The Glenn Research Centre will lose 700 of its 1,900 jobs by the end of 2006, and the agency will eliminate two research programmes that sought to reduce turbine engine emissions.

NASA officials also said the multimillion-dollar Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (Jimo) mission, which was to have been launched in 2015 as a demonstration for the Prometheus nuclear power and propulsion initiative, is too ambitious. The search is on for an alternative demonstration mission.