The world faces a dilemma: how to keep the flow of science and discovery from the ailing Hubble Space Telescope alive. According to an international team led by Johns Hopkins University astronomers, the best answer may lie not in a robot-led or manned repair mission, but through the launch of a brand new, free-flying telescope called the “Hubble Origins Probe.”

“During the past 15 years, Hubble discoveries have rewritten the textbooks from which our children learn. Though we support any option that will maintain the Hubble mission, the Hubble Origins Probe is the best choice not only for continuing that tradition of discovery, but also for taking it one step further,” said Colin Norman, one of the leaders of the team, during testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science earlier today.

Intended to replicate and to improve upon the design of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Hubble Origins Probe offers an option that is low on risk yet high on scientific returns, according to Norman, principal investigator for the team that also includes Johns Hopkins astronomers Holland Ford, Warren Moos and Tim Heckman.

For instance, HOP would make use of instruments – the Cosmic Origins Spectograph (COS) and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) – originally built to be installed on Hubble during its fourth service mission. In addition, it would include a new Very Wide-Field Imager that would “greatly enhance the original science mission of Hubble,” Norman testified.

That Very Wide-Field Imager, slated to be built in collaboration with Japanese partners who will underwrite the cost, will allow scientists to map the heavens more than 20 times faster than even a refurbished Hubble Space Telescope could, Norman said. What’s more, the new Japanese camera will be open for use by the worldwide astronomical community based on a peer review system in the same way that all Hubble instruments have been.

Norman told the committee that it would take an estimated 65 months and $1 billion to launch HOP, which he stated would continue and even expand upon the flow of science and discovery that has made the original Hubble Space Telescope a “national treasure.”

“The groundbreaking science, the cutting-edge technology generated in the development of new instrumentation, the ability of Hubble science to engage the interest of the public and its impact on the imagination of students, makes it worthwhile to invest this sum of public funds to complete the last chapter of Hubble’s remarkable legacy,” said Norman. “We believe that the intellectual legacy of HOP would be invaluable. HOP will inspire and motivate young scientists and engineers, helping seed America with the human capital so vital for the long-term strength of our economy.”

Though either of the other two options (a robot-led or manned repair mission using a space shuttle) would also allow the tradition of Hubble-generated science to continue, HOP is unique in that it is not dependent upon manned servicing, robotic technology or the need to reach Hubble Space Telescope before its demise. Most exciting of all, however, is that HOP would enable a dramatic extension of Hubble’s science program via its VWFI camera.

“HOP can address three of the most central intellectual issues of our age: the nature of dark energy, the nature and distribution of dark matter, and the prevalance of planets, including earths, around other stars,” Norman stated. “The decision before us is obvious. We must continue with the Hubble adventure to explore these great questions further, to understand more fully our remarkable universe and our place in it. We must do this with intense determination and energy, and thus continue to inspire new generations with the wonder and thrill of exploration and discovery.”

The Hubble Origins Probe study was funded by NASA.

Further information on HOP can be found at the public HOP web site: