Hubble’s growing older {hardware} was final serviced straight in 2009 by house shuttle astronauts, and engineers estimated again then that it could final till round 2016. “After a few years in flight with all the refurbishes, engineers reevaluated the survivability and reliability of the instruments and started pushing everything much further out,” says Tom Brown, the pinnacle of the Hubble Space Telescope mission workplace on the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. “The most recent estimates say that there’s an excellent chance we’re going to be doing science like we do today until at least 2026, and perhaps the whole decade. It’s looking pretty good right now.” 

Hubble has been utilized in virtually each sort of astronomy investigation: learning planets and moons in our personal photo voltaic system; peering at distant stars, galaxies, supernovas, nebulas, and different astrophysical phenomena; learning the origins and enlargement of the universe. 

Its work in exoplanet science within the final decade has been particularly shocking, contemplating that when the telescope was launched in 1990, we have been nonetheless 5 years away from detecting the primary exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star. Hubble isn’t helpful for truly discovering exoplanets however, slightly, for follow-up observations that may characterize planets and their atmospheres as soon as they’re discovered. When the James Webb Space Telescope launches later this yr, the 2 observatories mixed may lastly assist scientists establish an Earth-like world that’s really hospitable to life. 

The JWST is usually promoted as Hubble’s successor, however that isn’t fairly proper. Hubble can observe the universe in seen and ultraviolet wavelengths, whereas JWST’s focus is on infrared observations, which assist us examine early-universe objects and characterize the chemistry on different worlds. Being located in house, Hubble doesn’t have to fret about inference attributable to Earth’s ambiance, which is particularly detrimental to ultraviolet observations (the ozone layer blocks out most UV radiation).

This can also be vital after we want eyes to check poorly understood phenomena. Take the 2017 detection of gravitational waves produced by the collision of two neutron stars. Hubble was in a position to observe the occasion’s aftermath, offering knowledge outdoors the infrared spectrum that was used to outline the form and evolution of the merger in crisper element. 

Four main scientific devices are presently energetic onboard Hubble, so even when one or two issues cease working, there’s nonetheless a ton of main science the remainder of the observatory can do. The telescope can also be constructed with lots of redundancy, so single {hardware} and software program failures don’t essentially cease particular person devices from working. 

That being stated, there are not any plans for a brand new service mission. If there’s a catastrophic failure that takes Hubble solely offline, it’s exhausting to see NASA greenlighting a restore mission for an observatory that’s over three many years outdated. 

So what replaces Hubble when it’s lastly able to retire? Brown says different nations have nascent plans to place different missions in orbit that would take up the seen and UV investigations presently run by Hubble. India’s Astrosat house telescope presently does UV observations from house, however with a a lot smaller aperture. China is seeking to launch an area telescope known as Xuntian in 2024, and state media says it is going to observe an space of house 300 occasions bigger than Hubble can. 

The true successor to Hubble is perhaps NASA’s proposed Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Surveyor house telescope, or LUVOIR, a general-purpose observatory able to observing in a number of wavelengths (together with infrared, optical, and ultraviolet). But if funded, LUVOIR wouldn’t launch till 2039 on the earliest. 

It’s attainable Hubble will keep on till it may be really changed, however most astronomers are bracing for a giant data hole when it lastly stops working. “Hubble is really the premier game for doing ultraviolet and optical astronomy,” says Brown. “So much of astronomy, especially when it comes to understanding temperature and chemistry in outer space, hinges on the information you can really get from it. I fear the space community is really going to feel the loss when Hubble stops working.”