Wide Field Camera 3
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Project Updates 2004


WFC3 has completed a major milestone: its first end-to-end thermal-vacuum test. In preparation for this test, the instrument was fully integrated with all flight subsystems (optics, detectors, electronics, heat pipes, etc). Because of the uncertain status of the servicing mission, this was not intended to be the final integration of the instrument: issues discovered along the way in putting the instrument together for this test were only resolved if necessary to get the instrument to a state in which a "performance characterization" could be carried out. Hence, if the program is restored to a flight status, various "liens" on the hardware will need to be addressed.

Nonetheless, the instrument performed extremely well overall, producing high quality images in both the UVIS and IR channels, with detector performance in excellent agreement with previous subsystem results. Performance from an engineering standpoint was very good as well -- in six weeks of vacuum testing, the instrument did not once need to be brought up from vacuum to deal with a hardware problem.


NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has authorized the HST project to study the possibility of servicing HST robotically. The goals of the Hubble Robotic Servicing and Deorbit Mission (HRSDM) would be to install a de-orbit module for safe re-entry of HST after its mission life, to install new batteries and gyros to extend the observing lifetime of the telescope, and to install the new instruments WFC3 and COS to enhance its scientific performance.

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The flight IR detector successfully completed assembly and cold functional testing at Ball and is scheduled to be delivered to Goddard early April. After installation of the flight IR detector, the instrument will undergo a short functional test, followed by an ambient characterization test, then the thermal vacuum test.


HST Servicing Mission 4, which would have installed Wide Field Camera 3 into the telescope, has been cancelled. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe based his decision to cancel SM4 on shuttle safety issues and his conclusions regarding how best to follow the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Therefore, there are no current plans for installing WFC3 onto HST.

Nevertheless, work on WFC3 is continuing at this time. NASA's current intention is to make the instrument available as Government Furnished Equipment for alternative uses within NASA's scientific program (e.g. within the Explorer or Discovery programs, among other possibilities). Proposers who could benefit from using some or all of the WFC3 hardware would have the opportunity to propose to do so; their proposals would then undergo the standard competitive, peer-reviewed selection process.

The instrument is very near completion, and many critical aspects of its capabilities can be demonstrated by bringing it through a successful thermal-vacuum test. The WFC3 team has thus been authorized to expeditiously carry the instrument through that test sequence and to document the results and state of the instrument thoroughly so that alternative uses of the hardware can be developed with a clear understanding of WFC3's capabilities.

The SM4 cancellation decision is to some degree still under review -- Congress has asked for a more detailed explanation of the decision, and Administrator O'Keefe has requested that Admiral Gehman, chair of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, provide his insights. Hence, while the WFC3 team is proceeding on the new "fast-track to thermal-vac" plan, we will of course do nothing to endanger the hardware or preclude its use on HST, should NASA reconsider that possibility.


Jan 16, 2004 - The HST Program has received notification from the NASA Administrator that he has decided to cancel all further HST on-orbit servicing, including Servicing Mission 4. In a personal briefing to the HST Program staff, he announced his decision and explained that it was based on the unique risks associated with future HST servicing missions.

Both the WFC3 flight Infrared and UVIS flight spare detectors have been integrated to their respective interchange rings, and are ready for alignment.

The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) abbreviated ambient calibration activities of the Ultra-Violet (UV) Visible (UVIS) channel have been completed.