About this ArticleJ. Kennea with M. Peeples (molly[at]stsci.edu)
The Hubble Space Telescope Users Committee, a group of 12 scientists representing the interests of Hubble Users community, meets twice yearly with the members of the Hubble Team from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and NASA. After two years of COVID-19-induced online meetings, the STUC again met in person at STScI in Baltimore, for the second time this year. The meeting occurred over two days, October 20 and 21. During this meeting, we welcomed two new members, Misty Bentz and Saurabh Jha. This meeting was also the last for Jamie Kennea as Chair, with Beth Biller taking over the Chair position in 2023.
During the two-day meeting, the STUC heard about lots of exciting updates from the Hubble Team, not the least of which was the possibility of a Space-X mission to boost Hubble into a higher orbit. Although this concept is currently only a feasibility study for now, the prospect of extending the life of Hubble, and possibly adding some additional hardware, is exciting given how crucial Hubble remains.
STScI Interim Director Nancy Levenson discussed how Hubble is clearly not being replaced by JWST, but rather is in partnership with it. Indeed, the excitement surrounding JWST’s first images drove engagement with Hubble public outreach rather than diminishing it. It’s clear that Hubble has unique capabilities and wavelength coverage that does not overlap with JWST: the two major telescopes form a partnership rather than a rivalry.
The STUC heard about the "Hubble UV Legacy Library of Young Stars as Essential Standards" ULLYSES project, a major undertaking of Directors Discretionary Time (DDT), to obtain a legacy library of UV spectra of young low and high mass stars. This program, which consists of 1,000 orbits of observing is now 88% complete, and the expectation is that the next release of processed data (called DR6) will be in March 2023, with the final release (DR7) in Fall 2023. It was announced at the meeting that the Interim Director has started the process of defining the next large legacy DDT program.
We heard from the STScI Hubble Mission Office that the status of Hubble and its instruments continues to be healthy. Although glitches and issues do happen occasionally, it’s impressive how quickly the problems can be diagnosed and fixed. In addition, work is continuing to ensure that Hubble continues to be a healthy and efficient mission.
Given that Hubble is now over 32 years old, it is surprising that new capabilities can be brought online even now, but in fact this is happening in Cycle 31, with a new spectropolarimetery mode for ACS now being supported. In addition, Hubble is moving with the times to become more capable of rapid response, by defining new opportunities for rapid Target-of-Opportunity follow-up, by defining specific days of the month that will be devoted to this activity, which will also be supported in the upcoming Cycle 31.
The 2022 NASA Senior Review of Operating Missions report provided very positive feedback on Hubble, with a high ranking and the flat funding for Hubble going forward was approved. Although the funding is flat, the funding for the NASA Hubble Fellowship Program was moved out of this budget, providing relief given the pressures of inflation.
The STUC heard about issues relating to issues on budget reporting, which can create onerous requirements for some community members, depending on how their institutions implement this reporting. If community members are experiencing issues, they are encouraged to reach out to the Space Telescope Grants Administration team to discuss how to remediate any issues.
Finally, in the last report we mentioned the thorny issue of “Exclusive Access Period” (EAP) to Hubble data. This has also been discussed by the JWST STUC. Many consider an EAP to important to protect researchers from having data “poached” and published by other groups, however there are advocates for all data being open, and, indeed, NASA and the government are pushing towards more open data policies for missions. It’s important to state that currently no pressure to change EAP exists for Hubble, however, in concert with JWST, the community is now being polled for their opinions on this important subject. We encourage community members to engage with this survey, whether you be a Hubble/JWST proposer or user of archival data, please make your voice heard.
As a reminder, nominations for STUC membership can be submitted at any time by email to email@example.com. Self-nomination is welcome, but not required. Submissions are encouraged, but not required, to include a cover letter and a one-page curriculum vitae summarizing the nominee’s relevant background and HST-related interests. While members must be affiliated with institutions in the U.S. or in ESA countries, there is no restriction on citizenship. Nominations will be considered on a rolling basis, as several members rotate off after every meeting.
The STUC is here to represent your views on how to ensure Hubble makes the best decisions for science. Therefore, you are encouraged to contact the STUC with any issues you may have relating to Hubble policies, proposing and utilization. We are here for you. As my final statement as Chair of the Hubble Space Telescope Users Committee, I wanted to say what a pleasure it has been representing your interests over the past three years.