NASA and SpaceX plan to upgrade Hubble to increase its lifespan

Nasa and SpaceX will study the feasibility of granting a mission to the company of Elon Musk, whose goal would be to send the Hubble telescope to a higher orbit in order to extend its life, a announced the US space agency on September 29.

No means of propulsion on board Hubble

The famous telescope, which has been operating since 1990 at some 540 kilometers above the Earth, is seeing its orbit slowly deteriorate due to the atmospheric friction it still experiences, even at low proportions. Hubble has no means of propulsion on board, and its altitude had already been corrected in the past during American space shuttle missions. The proposed new mission would see the use of SpaceX’s Dragon rocket.

SpaceX’s Dragon rocket with the Crew-3 crew on board, approaching the International Space Station, November 11, 2021. Credits: NASA TV/AFP/Archives – Handout

No concrete project

A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea of ​​a study to see if a commercial crew could help boost“Hubble,” NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters, adding that the agency had accepted the study at no cost to it financially. The official stressed that there are currently no plans to conduct or finance a mission, until all the potential technical challenges are better understood. One of the main obstacles is the lack of a robotic arm on Dragon, unlike the space shuttles, and would therefore need modifications.SpaceX came up with the idea in partnership with the Polaris Program, a private spaceflight company.

Asked if such a mission could be seen as a way to give wealthy people something to do in space, Thomas Zurbuchen said: “I think it was very timely for us to review (such an assignment) because of the extraordinary value this research asset has for us“, in reference to the Hubble telescope.

Hubble, always active

Considered one of the most important scientific instruments in history, Hubble continues to make important discoveries, including the detection this year of the most distant individual star ever observed, Earendel, whose light took 12, 9 billion years to reach us.

The telescope is currently scheduled to remain operational until the end of the decade, with an estimated 50% chance that it will lose orbit in 2037, said Patrick Crouse, the Hubble project manager.


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