NASA wants SpaceX to be able to take Hubble into higher orbits to try to extend its lifespan by doing science.
NASA and SpaceX have agreed to study the feasibility of awarding Elon Musk’s company a contract to boost the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit, with the aim of extending its lifespan, the US space agency said.
The renowned observatory has been operating since 1990 some 540 kilometers above the Earth, in an orbit that slowly decays over time.
To high orbits
Hubble lacks onboard propulsion to combat the small but noticeable amount of atmospheric drag in this region of space, and its altitude was previously reset during space shuttle missions.
The new project would involve a Dragon capsule.
“A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea of studying whether a commercial crew could help power our Hubble spacecraft,” NASA Chief Scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters, adding that the agency had agreed . the study at no cost.
Zurbuchen stressed that there are no concrete plans at present to conduct or fund such a mission until its technical challenges are better understood.
One of the main obstacles would be that the Dragon spacecraft, unlike space shuttles, does not have a robotic arm and would need modifications for such a mission.
SpaceX proposed the idea in partnership with the Polaris Program, a private human spaceflight company run by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who last year chartered a SpaceX Crew Dragon to orbit Earth with three other private astronauts.
“This would certainly fit within the parameters we set for the Polaris program,” Isaacman said in response to a question about whether Hubble ‘s reactivation could be the goal of a future Polaris mission.
Asked by a reporter if there might be a perception that the mission was devised to give wealthy people things to do in space, Zurbuchen responded: “I think it’s appropriate that we consider it because of the tremendous value of this research asset.” for us”.
A legacy you can continue
Possibly one of the most valuable instruments in scientific history, Hubble continues to make important discoveries, including the detection, this year, of the farthest single star ever seen, Eärendel, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach Earth.
It is currently forecast to remain operational throughout this decade, with a 50% chance of leaving orbit by 2037, said Patrick Crouse, project manager for the Hubble Space Telescope. (AFP)