The White House, in consultation with Nasa Administrator Sean O'Keefe, eliminated the funding for the project - estimated at more than $1 billion - from Nasa's proposed budget for fiscal 2006, which begins on 1 October, The Washington Post said on Saturday, citing anonymous administration sources.

Nasa spokesman Robert Mirelson dismissed the reports as "pure speculation" adding it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the matter before the budget proposal comes out to the Congress on 7 February.

Rise and fall

According to Space.com, an online news service, Nasa's budget would include funding for a robotic vehicle that would steer the telescope into the ocean when its batteries or gyroscopes stop functioning.

The telescope helped gather
evidence for the Big Bang theory

US astronauts conducted four shuttle missions to repair and upgrade the Hubble (in 1991, 1993, 1997 and 2002), and a fifth and final manned shuttle mission had been expected in 2006 to replace aging batteries and install new sensors and gyroscopes.

Since it entered into service in 1990, the Hubble has established the age of the Milky Way at between 13 billion and 14 billion years, helped gather evidence to support the Big Bang theory and provided the first convincing proof by an optical telescope of the existence of black holes.

If nothing is done, Hubble, built to last until the end of 2005, could still survive until 2007. Repairs would have kept the telescope in service until 2011.