This very deep image taken with the Hubble shows the spiral galaxy NGC 4921 along with a spectacular backdrop of more distant galaxies. It was created from a total of 80 separate pictures taken through yellow and near-infrared filters.
The Hubble of today is a far cry from the Hubble of 1990, with modern cameras that let it peer to the very edge of the observable universe, along with new solar panels, gyroscopes, and guidance systems that keep the spacecraft in good working condition. The telescope is producing some of its most profound science right now, and almost every year that goes by sees more Hubble studies published than the year before.
As we know, all good things must, one day, come to an end.Yet all good things must one day come to an end. Hubble has already outlived its planned lifespan of 15 years, and if all goes well, it will be able to continue for some years to come. However, the Space Shuttle fleet has now retired, and no spacecraft in service or on the drawing board can go back to Hubble with spare parts and a crew of astronauts. The telescope is on its own; there will be no further refurbishments, no new instruments, and no more repairs.
Astronaut John Grunsfeld working on Hubble during the final servicing mission to Hubble in 2009. Grunsfeld was the last person to ever touch Hubble: there will be no more servicing missions now that the Space Shuttle fleet has been withdrawn from service.
Eventually, Hubble will stop working. It could be that its instruments will fail; they are intricate and highly complex devices that can and do wear out. Or the gyroscopes that keep it pointing in the right direction will break down. Or perhaps it will be hit by a piece of space junk; this happens frequently, although without major damage so far. But, inevitably, the time will come.
When it does, a rocket will be sent up to Hubble one last time, dock with it, and nudge it out of its orbit, safely crashing the telescope into the ocean. By then, however, Hubble should have a successor.
NASA and the European Space Agency, the organizations that built and launched Hubble, are building a bigger and better observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Joining them will be a new partner, the Canadian Space Agency. JWST is planned to launch in 2018 on board a European Ariane 5 rocket.