The Hubble Space Telescope’s Problem and How It Was Resolved

The Hubble Space Telescope, launched by NASA in 1990, is a powerful instrument that has revolutionized our understanding of the universe. However, shortly after its deployment, it became apparent that the telescope was not functioning as intended. The primary mirror had a flaw, causing severe spherical aberration in the images. This problem led to blurry and distorted images that jeopardized the scientific value of the mission. To fix the issue, NASA launched a Servicing Mission in 1993 that sent astronauts to replace the faulty components and install corrective optics. This repair mission restored the Hubble Space Telescope’s ability to deliver sharp and clear images, allowing for groundbreaking discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics.

Overview of the Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a large telescope in space, named after astronomer Edwin Hubble. It was launched into orbit in 1990 by NASA and has been in operation ever since. The HST has been responsible for many significant discoveries in astronomy, including the age of the universe, black holes, and the existence of dark energy.

The Problem with Hubble

Despite its many successes, the HST initially suffered from a significant problem that threatened to render it useless. The telescope’s primary mirror, which is responsible for gathering light from distant objects, was found to be flawed.

One key takeaway from the Hubble Space Telescope’s problem and how it was resolved is the importance of perseverance and teamwork. Despite the catastrophic flaw in the primary mirror, scientists and engineers worked together to devise a complex solution involving multiple servicing missions and new corrective equipment. This dedication and collaboration ultimately transformed the HST from a flawed telescope to one that has made significant contributions to astronomical research and discovery.

The Flawed Mirror

The primary mirror was designed to be a parabolic shape, but it was discovered that a flaw in the manufacturing process had left it with a spherical shape. This meant that the light being collected by the mirror was not being focused correctly, resulting in blurry images.

The Impact

The impact of the flawed mirror was significant. The HST was unable to capture clear images of distant objects, rendering it almost useless for astronomical research. The flaw was catastrophic, and it was unclear if it could be fixed.

The Solution

The solution to the HST’s problem was not simple. It required a team of scientists and engineers to work together to devise a solution that would fix the flawed mirror. The solution they came up with was complex but ultimately successful.

Key takeaway: The Hubble Space Telescope had a significant problem with its primary mirror, which was originally flawed and resulted in blurry images. The solution involved sending Space Shuttle Servicing Missions to install new equipment and the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) instrument, which ultimately transformed the HST into a functional and valuable tool for astronomical research. The HST has been responsible for many significant discoveries, including the age of the universe, black holes, dark energy, and exoplanets.

The Space Shuttle Servicing Missions

The solution involved sending several Space Shuttle Servicing Missions to the HST to install new equipment and repair the flawed mirror. The first mission, in 1993, was a success, and the telescope was fitted with new equipment that helped to correct the flawed mirror. However, it was still not perfect.

The Second Servicing Mission

The second servicing mission, in 1997, was the most significant. The HST was fitted with a new instrument called the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR). COSTAR was designed to correct the flaws in the primary mirror by using corrective optics. This was a complicated process that involved the use of multiple mirrors and lenses to redirect the light that was being collected by the primary mirror.

The Impact of the Solution

The impact of the solution was significant. The HST was transformed from a flawed telescope into one that was capable of capturing clear and vivid images of distant objects. The COSTAR instrument allowed the HST to continue its contribution to astronomical research, resulting in many significant discoveries.

The Importance of the Hubble Space Telescope

The HST has been responsible for many significant discoveries in astronomy since its launch. It has allowed scientists to study the universe in a way that was previously impossible. Some of the most important discoveries made by the HST include:

The Age of the Universe

The HST was used to measure the age of the universe by studying the light from distant galaxies. This led to the discovery that the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old.

Black Holes

The HST has been used to study black holes in great detail. This has led to a better understanding of these mysterious objects and their role in the universe.

Dark Energy

The HST has been used to study dark energy, a mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. This has led to a better understanding of the structure and evolution of the universe.


The HST has been used to discover and study exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than our sun. This has led to a better understanding of the potential for life elsewhere in the universe.

FAQs: What was the Hubble Space Telescope’s problem and how was it resolved?

What was the problem with the Hubble Space Telescope?

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into space in 1990, and soon after its launch, astronomers noticed that the images it was sending back were blurry. Investigation revealed that the problem was with the telescope’s primary mirror. During production, a flawed mirror was used, and it had an error in its curvature, which meant that the light coming into the telescope was not being focused properly.

How was the problem with the Hubble Space Telescope resolved?

To repair the damage to the telescope, astronauts had to undertake a daring and risky space mission. In December 1993, the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour flew to the Hubble Space Telescope to fix the mirror. They installed a new camera with corrective optics that would correct the distortions caused by the faulty mirror. This camera was called the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) and was designed to work with three other instruments. In addition, the astronauts conducted a range of other repairs and maintenance tasks, including replacing some of the equipment on board that had failed or was nearing the end of its life.

Was the problem completely resolved after the mission was completed?

The mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope was successful in that it restored the telescope to full operational capability. The images that Hubble sent back after the repair work was completed were far clearer and more detailed than the images it had been sending back previously. However, the repair mission didn’t fix all of the problems with the telescope. For example, Hubble still experienced some issues with its gyroscope, which helps to keep the telescope pointing in the right direction. Hubble has undertaken several further servicing missions since then to fix additional issues and upgrade its equipment, most recently in 2009.

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