The US space agency asked companies on Thursday how they could extend the life of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Why is this important?Hubble was launched in 1990 and has since made a major contribution to astronomical research. But the height of the telescope’s orbit, about 535 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, is slowly but surely deteriorating. When space shuttles were still in use, this orbit could still be corrected, but since that program ended, Hubble has been left to fend for itself.
The essentials: NASA wants Hubble’s orbit restored.
- NASA issued a “Request For Information” (RFI) on Thursday. This is a formal request to collect information from potential suppliers of goods or services.
- In this context, private companies are encouraged to take advantage of their commercial satellite maintenance services by putting Hubble back into orbit.
- The space agency wants technical information about mission planning from interested companies. They must also conduct a risk analysis as well as an assessment to determine the chances of success for the mission.
Another noteworthy fact: the space agency states that interested companies must cover the costs of the mission themselves to prove that their plan is effective.
- The RFI will be part of a wider strategy to support satellite maintenance services. It would also allow aging government satellites to have a longer lifespan.
- “With a growing commercial industry developing and maturing space technologies and capabilities, NASA is committed to working with commercial entities to demonstrate how they can operate and provide services in space,” NASA said. space agency in the announcement.
- Earlier this year, NASA had already announced that it was working with SpaceX to see if the company could fly a mission to Hubble. However, it is not known whether this would happen. At the time, NASA said it was open to partnering with other companies.
- However, until the publication of the RFI on Thursday, there was no formal mechanism to promote this cooperation. The space agency then only talked about a “non-exclusive” deal with SpaceX, meaning other companies could submit their own proposals.
And now : companies can submit their proposals until January 24. It is unclear when a mission will be flown next, but the space agency has revealed that Hubble’s orbit will drop dangerously low in 2025, complicating any mission. If nothing is done, the telescope will enter the atmosphere within the next decade and burn up there.