FP StaffSep 30, 2022 13:19:40 IST
The Hubble Space Telescope is one of the most important scientific achievements of the human species that has helped us understand space. It has been in orbit for over 30 years and has been feeding some of the most vital streams of information that has not only helped us steer our space exploration efforts, but also solve some of the more deep mysteries of the universe.
NASA would love to extend its usable life for as long as possible. Unfortunately, for some years now, Hubble Space Telescope has been slipping out of its orbit. That is why, NASA is planning to team up with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and place it into a higher much more stable orbit.
NASA, SpaceX and Jared Isaacman, a private astronaut with the Polaris Program, hosted a media teleconference on Thursday to announce a feasibility study that will look into sending a commercial Dragon spacecraft to reboost the Hubble Space Telescope. This will, in effect place the telescope into a higher and more stable orbit than it’s currently in.
Hubble’s orbit has been slowly decaying over time. According to Hubble project manager Patrick Crouse, the observatory has dropped about 19 miles or about 30 kilometres since its last servicing mission in 2009 and has an estimated 50% probability of reentering Earth’s atmosphere in 2037 if nothing is done. NASA already hopes Hubble will remain operational through the end of this decade, but boosting it could add years to its life.
NASA representatives emphasized that Hubble is healthy and continuing its science operations. The telescope has weathered plenty of technical glitches over the years and was the subject of five different servicing missions using NASA’s now-retired space shuttle fleet.
The study is expected to take up to six months and will focus on whether it would be technically possible for a Crew Dragon to “safely rendezvous, dock, and move the telescope into a more stable orbit.” None of the teleconference participants were ready to lay out detailed plans on what a Hubble reboost mission might look like and whether it would even require a crew to be on board. Isaacman’s participation suggests a Polaris Dawn SpaceX mission could be in the mix if a plan moves toward fruition.
NASA has been working to build partnerships with commercial space providers. SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules already shuttle astronauts to the International Space Station. This study hints at wider possibilities. “While Hubble and Dragon will serve as test models for this study,” NASA said, “portions of the mission concept may be applicable to other spacecraft, particularly those in near-Earth orbit like Hubble.”