NASA and SpaceX will explore whether it’s possible to extend the life of the Hubble Space Telescope by using a SpaceX Dragon probe to push it into a higher orbit.
The Hubble Space Telescope left Earth 32 years ago and was recently replaced by the more powerful James Webb Space Telescope. But Hubble’s life isn’t over yet.
NASA and SpaceX on Thursday signed the “Space Act Agreement,” a pact that imposes no cost on the U.S. government but could, if the study favors it, use a privately funded SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to do the job.
The idea is to anchor Dragon to Hubble and move it into a more stable orbit. The study is a partnership with the Polaris program, a private sector-funded initiative by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman that focuses on manned space missions.
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“This study is an exciting example of the innovative approaches NASA is exploring through public-private partnerships,” said NASA Chief Scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.
“As our fleet grows, we want to explore a wide range of opportunities to support the most robust and exceptional science missions possible.”
Hubble’s orbit is 335 miles above Earth, just above the atmosphere, but that’s degrading over time. Relaunching Hubble into a higher, more stable orbit could add years to its operational life, NASA said. After Hubble’s decommissioning, NASA plans to deorbit the satellite or dispose of it.
Disposal is a concern for NASA, which is supporting several studies to understand the impact of orbital debris as Low Earth Orbit (LEO) becomes increasingly crowded with active satellites, rocks, old stages of intentionally exploded rockets and satellites.
The FCC is sufficiently concerned about the volume of space junk that it voted yesterday for a new five-year rule requiring operators to responsibly retire satellites from LEO within five years of mission completion rather than the current 25-year rule.
Based on Hubble’s current orbital decline, NASA believes it would be decommissioned by 2030. However, at a higher altitude, the space telescope could survive another 15 to 20 years.
“It’s only fitting that we review this because of the tremendous value this research asset has for us and others,” NASA’s Zurbuchen said, according to CNBC.
The question of cost is a thorny one for NASA, whose Artemis I mission to jump-start human exploration of the Moon around 2024 has cost the agency $40 billion so far.