5 Reasons Why Astronomy Is Better From The Ground Than In Space

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3.) You never have to worry about a launch failure.

Ever hear of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory, designed to view how CO2 moved through the atmosphere from space? Probably not, since the satellite failed to separate from the rocket during the first few minutes of launch; the entire rocket-and-spacecraft assembly crashed into the ocean just 17 minutes after it first took off. The rocket that will launch the James Webb Space Telescope, the Ariane 5, had 82 consecutive launch successes, before suffering a partial failure just two months ago. Many space missions have come to a grim end due to a failure during launch, deployment, or orbital insertion; once you’ve launched, it’s virtually impossible to correct a spacecraft failure once something goes awry. From the ground, that will never occur.

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4.) Ground-based infrastructure is far superior to anything you have in space.

Want to keep your spacecraft cool? Better bring all the coolant you’ll need for the duration of the mission, and/or hope your passive cooling system never gets damaged. Need to shield yourself from the Sun? Make sure you’re always pointing in the right direction and hope your gyroscopes never fail. Have an optical component that degrades, fails, or suffers a fault? In space, you’re stuck with what you’ve got. But on the ground, you can have extravagant maintenance facilities on-site. A faulty, dirty, or damaged mirror can be swapped out; infrared telescopes can be cooled indefinitely; repairs can be made by human hands in real-time; new parts and people can be shipped in at a moment’s notice. It’s a remarkable feat that Hubble has lasted for nearly 30 years, but it’s taken multiple servicing missions (and some luck) to make it so. On the ground, telescopes that are half a century old are still returning cutting-edge science. There’s no contest.

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