Hubble instruments scanned after dust invasion NASA doesn't expect delay of mission

November 04, 1993|By Staff Report

The sensitive and costly instruments needed to repair the flawed Hubble Space Telescope will be reinspected to ensure against any contamination, following a wind storm that blew dust into a cargo room at Cape Canaveral, NASA officials said yesterday.

The instruments, including the $50 million Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR), were boxed and enclosed in two sealed plastic bags in a special, pressurized room on the launch pad, waiting to be loaded on the shuttle Endeavour, said Bruce Buckingham, a Cape spokesman.

The outer plastic bag was found this weekend covered with a "fine dusting" of a sand-like grit, he said. Agency officials do not suspect contamination, but, as a precaution, they are returning the instruments to a facility where the bags will be cleaned and the equipment will be removed and checked, the spokesman said.

NASA officials do not believe that the cleaning will delay the mission's target liftoff of Dec. 1, Mr. Buckingham said.

Designed at the Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, COSTAR is among a series of multimillion-dollar pieces of equipment that will be installed in the nearsighted Hubble telescope during an extraordinary, 11-day servicing mission. The instrument, which is the size of a telephone booth and weighs about 600 pounds, utilizes seven mirrors -- each no bigger than a quarter -- to correct the flaw in the telescope's primary mirror.

NASA officials also are trying to determine how the sandy grit got into the cargo room that held the Hubble equipment. The rectangular-shaped room is like a pressurized cabin and is located alongside the shuttle on a piece of equipment some 100 feet in the air, officials said. Sandblasting work recently took place at the launch pad, and officials suspect dust may have become trapped in the upper reaches of the room, Mr. Buckingham said.

When high winds hit the area over the weekend, officials suspect, they may have dislodged the dust, he said.

"And it pretty much dusted the bags. Any kind of contamination in our payload change-out room is of concern, especially in light [of the fact] we have some very sensitive instruments," said Mr. Buckingham.

Mr. Buckingham said NASA officials believe they can reclean the equipment bags, inspect the instruments, rebag them and return the cargo to the launch pad by Nov. 16, a day before mission officials meet to set the final liftoff date.

Besides the COSTAR, the cargo includes the Wide Field Planetary Camera II (an updated camera that also is equipped to correct the spherical aberration in Hubble's primary mirror) and replacement solar panels.

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