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CU Boulder Instrument Set For Insertion on Hubble Space Telescope in Early 2008

Press Release From: University of Colorado at Boulder
Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

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A servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope announced today by NASA will include the insertion of a $70 million instrument designed by the University of Colorado at Boulder that was built with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder to probe the nearby galaxies and the distant universe.

Known as the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, the instrument will gather ultraviolet light from distant stars, galaxies and quasars and detail the physical condition of the early universe, said James Green of CU- Boulder's Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy, principal investigator for the spectrograph. Although COS was selected in 1997 by NASA to upgrade the orbiting telescope, its installation on Hubble -- which requires in-flight work on a space shuttle by an astronaut team -- was put on hold after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

"This is a great day for the University of Colorado and a great day for Ball Aerospace, and we are elated," said Green. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said that the Hubble servicing mission by a team of space shuttle astronauts, most likely flying on Discovery, is tentatively targeted for May of 2008.

The telephone booth-sized COS is expected to improve Hubble's ability to detect UV light in the universe by a factor of 30 over the previous Hubble instrument, said Professor Michael Shull of CASA, a COS science team member. "There are literally hundreds of the new targets in the sights of our science team that are just too faint to image with Hubble's other instruments," he said.

The spectrograph will allow astronomers to peer back in time and space from the nearby Milky Way out to roughly 10 billion years ago, when the first galaxies and chemical elements were forming, said Shull, also a professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department. The instrument also will be used to study cold interstellar gas clouds, which contain a number of rare elements thought to have been produced by distant, cataclysmic events like supernova explosions, he said.

Shull said the NASA decision today should push the total worth of the project to the campus to between $70 million and $80 million. The 10-member COS science team, which includes five CU-Boulder faculty, is expected to receive about $20 million in the next several years to analyze data from some 552 orbits of observing time reserved for the team, he said.

"That is a lot of money and it will quite frankly buy a lot of science," said Shull, who noted that CASA is expected to hire about 10 postdoctoral researchers, 10 graduate students and 10 undergraduate students to work on the project over the next few years. "We are already getting inquiries from students around the world, and I know several CU-Boulder undergraduates who would like to use data from the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph for their honors theses."

In addition to Shull and Green, the CASA project also includes faculty members Ted Snow, John Stocke and Jeffrey Linsky. The collaborative effort also includes Dennis Ebbets of Ball Aerospace, Alan Stern from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, researchers from the University of Wisconsin Madison and the Space Telescope Science Institute, Shull said.

CASA's recent $1.6 million addition to its CU Research Park facility located on the East Campus will host much of the COS data analysis work, said Shull.

The servicing mission, the final for Hubble, is expected to keep the world's premier space telescope in operation well into the next decade, according to NASA officials. The mission also will include the installation of a wide field camera built by Ball Aerospace and upgrades in batteries and stabilizing equipment, according to NASA.

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