This answer states that the Hubble Space Telescope was originally intended to be returned to Earth in a Shuttle.

enter image description here (from shuttle manifest published immediately before the Columbia failure, showing the HST retrieval mission scheduled for 2009) source

After being captured by the Shuttle, what preparations would Hubble have needed to fit in the Shuttle and land safely? For example, would any equipment need to be folded or removed? Would propellants need to be unloaded? Any systems shut down or disabled?


2 Answers 2


It depends on whether you're talking about the original Hubble configuration or its current configuration.

First, Hubble does not have any thrusters, so it does not have propellant to unload (thrusters could throw particles around the telescope, affecting its view. Read more here)

Originally, the Hubble was designed to be returned via space shuttle, serviced, and then returned to orbit. To do this would require only the folding of the solar arrays and the capture of the telescope to be placed into the cargo bay securely.

Before returning the telescope, it would have to have some functionality in its pointing systems. This was so that it could be maneuvered to be grappled as well as due to heating concerns - if the telescope could not point itself for thermal control, then some parts may have been too cold to safely return to the much warmer Earth. See these requirements described here

Presuming it had this functionality, it would then have to have some things removed. This would take up to five spacewalks and even after this would have strained the shuttle's maximum weight to return.

The Hubble currently has enhanced solar arrays that would have to be removed, and a specialized cooling system for the NICMOS instrument (an IR camera that needs to be kept actively cooled) that can't be taken back to Earth because it is both too heavy and may not fit within the shuttle's cargo bay. Other than these two things, though, it appears that's about it, presuming that a vehicle existed to actually go and get it.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The lack of a functioning space shuttle seems to be a bigger problem :) $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Jun 16, 2019 at 16:16
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Nelson - Yes. Step #1. Actually have a shuttle. Step #2. Everything else. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Jun 16, 2019 at 20:16

Supplementary answer:

This answer covers most of the requirements well, but there is one incomplete statement:

To do this would require only the folding of the solar arrays

To fit horizontally in the payload bay and allow the Orbiter's payload bay doors to be closed, the telescope's aperture door must be closed and its high gain antennas also have to be stowed, as they were for the servicing missions

Open / deployed:

enter image description here

Closed / stowed:

enter image description here

HST in Orbiter payload bay during preparation for STS-31.

enter image description here


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