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The Hubble Space Telescope optical systems failure reportThe findings of the Hubble Space Telescope Optical Systems Board of Investigation are reported. The Board was formed to determine the cause of the flaw in the telescope, how it occurred, and why it was not detected before launch. The Board conducted its investigation to include interviews with personnel involved in the fabrication and test of the telescope, review of documentation, and analysis and test of the equipment used in the fabrication of the telescope's mirrors. The investigation proved that the primary mirror was made in the wrong shape (a 0.4-wave rms wavefront error at 632.8 nm). The primary mirror was manufactured by the Perkin-Elmer Corporation (Hughes Danbury Optical Systems, Inc.). The critical optics used as a template in shaping the mirror, the reflective null corrector (RNC), consisted of two small mirrors and a lens. This unit had been preserved by the manufacturer exactly as it was during the manufacture of the mirror. When the Board measured the RNC, the lens was incorrectly spaced from the mirrors. Calculations of the effect of such displacement on the primary mirror show that the measured amount, 1.3 mm, accounts in detail for the amount and character of the observed image blurring. No verification of the reflective null corrector's dimensions was carried out by Perkin-Elmer after the original assembly. There were, however, clear indications of the problem from auxiliary optical tests made at the time. A special optical unit called an inverse null corrector, designed to mimic the reflection from a perfect primary mirror, was built and used to align the apparatus; when so used, it clearly showed the error in the reflective null corrector. A second null corrector was used to measure the vertex radius of the finished primary mirror. It, too, clearly showed the error in the primary mirror. Both indicators of error were discounted at the time as being themselves flawed. The Perkin-Elmer plan for fabricating the primary mirror placed complete reliance on the reflective null corrector as the only test to be used in both manufacturing and verifying the mirror's surface with the required precision. This methodology should have alerted NASA management to the fragility of the process and the possibility of gross error. Such errors had been seen in other telescope programs, yet no independent tests were planned, although some simple tests to protect against major error were considered and rejected. During the critical time period, there was great concern about cost and schedule, which further inhibited consideration of independent tests.
Document ID
Document Type
Technical Memorandum (TM)
Date Acquired
September 6, 2013
Publication Date
November 1, 1990
Subject Category
Report/Patent Number
NAS 1.15:103443
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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