Losing Bid Offered Independent Check Of Mirrors, Documents Show
Jul. 28, 1990
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An unsuccessful Eastman Kodak bid to make the Hubble Space Telescope mirrors called for a second company to double check the grinding and polishing, a provision not offered by low bidder Perkin-Elmer, the firm that produced the flawed Hubble mirror.
The Kodak bid submitted to NASA for manufacture of the Hubble mirrors called for Kodak to make one primary mirror within its plant and for Itek Optical Systems to make an identical primary mirror at another plant.
NASA made the bid proposal documents available in response to a Freedom of Information petition.
In its proposal, Kodak said that the two mirrors and the different testing systems of the two companies could be used to verify the prescription. One of the two primary mirrors would then be used in the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA officials, however, awarded the contract to Perkin-Elmer. The Danbury, Conn., firm, now known as Hughes Danbury Optical Systems, did its own mirror grinding and polishing and used its own personnel and equipment to check the mirror prescriptions.
Perkin-Elmer's winning bid was $64.28 million. Kodak's proposal was for $99.79 million. Through overruns, the Perkin-Elmer contract climbed to an eventual total of $451 million.
The Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in April, has been found to have a focusing flaw in either the primary or secondary mirror. This error, NASA officials have said, means the $1.5 billion telescope is now able to capture images that are only about half as clear as those planned.
Dick Wollensak, a vice president of Itek, which is now a subsidiary of Litton Industries, said that the losing Kodak-Itek bid called for a so-called ''end-to-end'' test that would have detected any flaw in the mirrors before the telescope was launched.
''We weren't going to build those things and then not test them after they were assembled,'' he said in a telephone interview. ''Between Kodak and Itek, there were facilities to test the assembled optical system without a major modification.''
NASA officials have said that the Perkin-Elmer optical assembly was not tested after it was put together because it would have required a test facility that may have cost more than $100 million. As a result, the telescope was launched into space without ever being optically tested as an assembled unit. The focusing error was not discovered until the telescope was in orbit.
Wollensak said that the Perkin-Elmer design did not allow for the primary mirror to be tested after it was placed into the assembled telescope. He said that the instrument was designed to work in zero gravity and that the gravity of Earth caused the glass to sag slightly, which would have changed the focus.
Kodak and Itek, however, said Wollensak, had developed a way to prevent the sag and thus test the mirrors as an assembled unit.
Wollensak said he believes cost was a major factor in NASA selecting Perkin-Elmer to make the Hubble optics.
''NASA had developed their own version of what it should cost and that was lower than the Itek-Kodak bid,'' said Wollensak. ''They felt that the Perkin- Elmer bid was low, but they thought that the difference between the NASA expectation and the Perkin-Elmer bid would cover the overrun.''
As it turned out, the final cost was seven times more than the Perkin-Elmer bid. Wollensak said that the Kodak-Itek bid would have avoided many of the problems that led to the Perkin-Elmer overruns.
A NASA committee investigating the flawed Hubble telescope plans to return to Perkin-Elmer's plant in Danbury on Aug. 15 for two more days of testimony and a review of documents and equipment related to the flawed optics.
The committee met for two days this week in Danbury and an engineer who was there said it may take weeks to find the precise mistake that caused the flawed focus.
The engineer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the investigation ''is like looking for a bookkeeping error. It will go on and on.''
NASA hopes to be able to have an optical prescription for the error before the exact cause is found, however. Once it can be described mathematically, engineers can make lenses for a replacement Hubble camera that will correct the fuzzy focus for that camera.
NASA plans to send a space shuttle to the orbiting telescope in June, 1993, and spacewalking astronauts will replace the old camera with one that has the corrective lenses. Other instruments will be replaced in later years.