The fourth servicing mission (SM-4) for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) offered an impressive and unprecedented set of advanced technologies that may yield the most remarkable discoveries and imaging to date of Earth, the solar system, and beyond. The mission was, according to Deputy Associate Director for the HST Development Project Frank Cepollina, “the most complicated mission – from a servicing perspective – that NASA has ever flown.” The technology list for SM-4 included nearly 50 technologies, more than 20 of which were flown to orbit for the first time. SM-4 goals should result in a complete rejuvenation of the 18-year-old HST, enhancing its capabilities with cutting- edge instruments as well as two intricate repairs. These were achieved by many key NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) technologies in the hands of skilled astronauts.

Making Room for Innovation

New IR detectors will significantly increase the sensitivity of HST’s imaging capabilities. (NASA/Chris Gunn)
Achieving a lighter payload in order to accommodate more instruments on SM-4 was the goal behind the shuttle’s new super-lightweight interchangeable carrier (SLIC), composed in part by another new technology – Titanium Metal Matrix (TMC). Offering nearly double the carrying capacity of previous carriers, SLIC’s load included the new Wide Field Camera 3, new batteries, and other hardware and instruments weighing in excess of 3,000 pounds. Two of the six struts on SLIC are composed of TMC, which also was flown in space for the first time on SM-4.

TMC has been used on commercial and military jets and is highly valued for offering greater stiffness, resistance against fracture, and lighter weight compared with alternative materials. In fact, the replacement of regular titanium with TMC resulted in a 20% reduction in weight and a 20% increase in strength for SLIC.

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