satellite names - was Re: How close to decay?

Philip Chien (kc4yer@amsat.org)
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 22:10:45 -0400

catching up on some old mail still sitting in the inbox -

Ed Cannon <ecannon@mail.utexas.edu> asked -

>Why is Hubble Space Telescope called HST, but Compton Gamma-Ray
>Observatory called GRO rather than CGRO?

Many spacecraft names change over time, especially when they're renamed to
honor particular scientists.

Voyager was originally the Mariner Jupiter-Saturn mission, but the name
"Voyager" sounded more glamorous.  (an understatement in retrospect).

Galileo was originally the Jupiter Orbiter Probe, and changing the name
gave it more pizzaz - and probably helped save it from the budget axe.
Since the probe was considered an intergral part of the mission it didn't
get a separate name.

On the other hand the upcoming Cassini mission has the European-built
Huygens probe which will be sent in to Titan's atmosphere.  In that case
since it's built by a separate party, and certainly a party which wants to
recognize its own identity separately, it's got its own name.

Some spacecraft only get specific designations (e.g. numbers in the GOES or
NOAA series) after they reach orbit.  If the spacecraft doesn't reach orbit
for any reason it still retains its original letter designation (e.g.
GOES-G) but doesn't get a number.

But back to your specific question -

Hubble was originally known as the Large Space Telescope, and then later
the Space Telescope.  (Large was dropped because it was feared that
Congress would be worried about large implying a LARGE price tag - another
understatement.)  And many old-timers still just call it the Space
Telescope, or even just "ST".  But many years before launch it was renamed
the Hubble Space Telescope after Edwin Hubble.  So everybody knows it as
Hubble.

In the case of the Gamma Ray Observatory it was renamed _after_ launch as
the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) after Arthur Compton.  It's
somewhat confusing since one of the four science instruments is already
named after Compton - so are you talking about the specific instrument or
the entire spacecraft when you refer to "Compton".  While the full name is
used, and even the acronym, more often than not I'll still see references
to just plain GRO.  It's easier to pronounce, and much more familiar.
Especially since I've got a fairly large stack of prelaunch literature
which refers to it that way!

The X-Ray Timing Explorer (XTE) was renamed after launch as the Rossini
(sp?) XTE and I have _VERY_ rarely seen any references in that form.

Or to paraphrase Gertrude Stein "A Hubble is a HST is a Space Telescope".  ;-)

In any case, to avoid confusion it's always best to also refer to a
spacecraft by its international designation or catalog number.  Personally
I prefer the international ID because it's more descriptive (tells you the
launch year and whether it's the primary object or not).  But neither the
Int ID or NORAD number is established until after the launch and arrival in
orbit.  And I usually find out about spacecraft years in advance.  So as
often as not I'll use the name of the spacecraft when I first find out
about it.



Philip Chien [M1959.05.31/31.145//KC4YER@amsat.org]