The Hubble Space Telescope spread its wings this morning clearing the way for the release of the orbiting observatory. The telescope's twin European solar arrays slowly unfurled as shuttle Endeavour passed 593 kilometres above the Atlantic and Indian oceans.
The deployment of the solar arrays came at the end of the fifth and final spacewalk of the mission. Story Musgrave and Jeff Hoffman spent seven-hours in the cargo bay fitting new electrical systems and installing covers over the telescope's old magnetometers.
The first task was the installation of "SADE", a new ESA- supplied Solar Array Drive Electronics box. The box directs the twin solar panels at the Sun. The astronauts then lent a helping hand to lower the masts holding the solar arrays to their deployment position. Flight controllers decided to crank the masts out manually because of minor trouble with the latches.
The next job was the installation of the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph (GHRS) Redundancy Kit, a device that provides an alternate power and data route for the instrument.
The ESA supplied solar blankets rolled off their canisters without incident between 4 and 4h35 a.m. CST (11 and 11h35 a.m. CET). An hour later the new SADE system turned the arrays towards the sun.
"It is a tribute to the whole team, from the designers to the astronauts, that everything has gone so well", said Derek Eaton, ESA's HST project manager. "I only hope that the array will look so good when the shuttle returns to the telescope in 1997".
The telescope's first set of solar arrays flexed in orbit because of the sudden swing in temperature as the telescope moved in and out of sunlight. The movement, known as jitter, affected the telescope's pointing system and disrupted observations at certain times. Special software compensated largely for the problem but this occupied a large amount of computer memory. The design of the new arrays was modified to eliminate the problem. Eaton said he was "101 per cent" confident that jitter from the arrays would no longer affect the work of the telescope.
The deployment of the power-generating wings brought the servicing work to a close. If all goes according to plan, the telescope will return to orbital at 1.08 a.m. CST (8.08 a.m. CET) tomorrow morning. The telescope's aperture door will open just prior to the release.
ESA astronaut Claude Nicollier will operate the shuttle's robot arm during the deployment, as he has throughout the lengthy spacewalks and the retrieval of the telescope. This mission has seen more arm operations than any other. Milt Heflin, NASA's lead flight director for the mission, paid tribute to Nicollier at a news conference today.
"Claude was magnificent arm driver" he said. "The arm was surgically put in place every time. Folks can be very proud of him".
Endeavour is scheduled to return to Earth Monday 13 December.