The Hubble Space Telescope has been operating in Earth orbit since 1990, providing some of the best images and data about space ever captured. It’s now the target of an experiment to extend the life of artificial satellites.
NASA, the primary space agency of the United States, and SpaceX, a space launch provider, have announced a new partnership to study the feasibility of boosting the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit using the Dragon spacecraft from SpaceX. Hubble has been visited by spacecraft five times already for repairs and servicing, but each previous mission was carried out by astronauts on the Space Shuttle, which is no longer available.
The plans are still in the early stages, and right now it’s more of a model for other servicing missions than a firm plan specifically for Hubble. NASA said in a blog post, “SpaceX — in partnership with the Polaris Program — proposed this study to better understand the technical challenges associated with servicing missions. This study is non-exclusive, and other companies may propose similar studies with different rockets or spacecraft as their model.”
NASA’s hope is to use a Dragon spacecraft to push the Hubble Space Telescope from its current altitude of 535 km to 600 km, restoring its original altitude from 1990. Like many satellites in Earth orbit, the telescope is gradually losing altitude, which is expected to accelerate as it comes closer. A servicing mission could add more years to Hubble’s life, but no matter if it happens or not, NASA plans to “safely de-orbit or dispose of Hubble” when it can’t be used anymore.
The new James Webb Space Telescope is far more powerful than Hubble, and has already provided us with some incredible images and data about the universe. Still, two space telescopes are better than one — NASA recently pointed both telescopes at the same place for the first time, to observe the DART impact on Dimorphos.
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