NASA and SpaceX are Examining ways to Increase the Hubble Telescope’s Orbit
SpaceX plans to fund a study with NASA to examine ways to use the Dragon capsule to raise the orbital altitude of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Agency officials announced Thursday that Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to fund a study with NASA to study ways to use the space company’s Dragon capsule to raise the orbital height of the Hubble Space Telescope, which would extend its life.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief scientist, told reporters during a news briefing that SpaceX, whose Crew Dragon capsule transports astronauts and cargo to and from NASA’s International Space Station, will fully fund the six-month study.
“A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea of conducting a study on how a commercial crew could help propel our Hubble spacecraft into a higher orbit, extending the life of observation.”
The Hubble Space Telescope has been an essential cosmic observatory for astronomers around the world since its launch in 1990, providing exciting stellar images and allowing for important discoveries such as the age of the universe and Pluto’s moons.
NASA said the teams will collect data “to help determine if it is possible to safely rendezvous with the telescope and transfer it to a more stable orbit.”
Hubble was serviced several times in the early 2000s during the US shuttle program, and since that program was retired in 2011, astronomers have looked at different ways to service the old but still functional telescope. No plans have been developed.
The study will examine, among other things, whether SpaceX’s Dragon capsule would need modification to stick to and lift the telescope’s orbit, as well as whether astronauts would need to be on board a potential mission.
“At this point, everything is on the table,” Jessica Jensen, SpaceX’s vice president of customer operations, said during the press conference.
NASA officials confirmed that the agreement with SpaceX is only for a SpaceX-funded study and does not represent the agency’s plans to service the telescope at a later time.
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