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Current Missions - Wide Field and Planetary Camera 1 and 2

Wide Field and Planetary Camera

Launch: April 24, 1990; December 2, 1993
Purpose: Main camera instrument on Hubble Space Telescope


NASA's schoolbus-sized Hubble Space Telescope contains a 2.5-meter-diameter (8-foot) mirror that collects light from extremely distant objects in deep space. This light is brought to focus at a particular point where any one of five onboard instruments can turn it into pictures that are sent by radio to Earth. The main instrument used for taking general pictures of stars, galaxies and planets is JPL's Wide Field and Planetary Camera.

The instrument actually consists of four internal camera systems: three wide-field cameras, and one narrow-field camera. The wide-field cameras give the telescope a panoramic view, providing the greatest sensitivity for faint objects. The planetary camera provides about 2.2 times the resolution of the other three systems, but with a smaller field of view. All four cameras are sensitive to light from the far ultraviolet to the near infrared.

The original Wide Field/Planetary Camera was installed on the Hubble telescope when it was first launched into Earth orbit on a space shuttle on April 24, 1990. Scientists soon discovered, however, that a tiny error in the curvature of the space telescope's main mirror made it impossible to focus images sharply. Fortunately, JPL engineers determined that by changing the optics of the camera instrument, the telescope's problem could be overcome. The next camera instrument, called the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, was installed on the Hubble telescope by spacewalking astronauts on a space shuttle mission launched on December 2, 1993. This brought Hubble's vision to perfect focus, and over the next few years the space telescope has relayed phenomenal pictures and made possible a variety of discoveries.

The first camera instrument was a joint project of JPL and the California Institute of Technology. The second camera was designed and built by JPL.

For more information, see the Wide Field and Planetary Camera home page.

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