NASA and SpaceX plan to upgrade Hubble to extend its life

Nasa and SpaceX will explore the possibility of giving a mission to Elon Musk’s company, the goal of which would be to send the Hubble telescope to a higher orbit to extend its life, the US space agency announced on September 29.

No propulsion on board Hubble

The famous telescope, which has been in operation since 1990 about 540 kilometers above Earth, is seeing its orbit slowly deteriorate due to the atmospheric friction it still experiences, even at low proportions. Hubble has no propulsion means on board, and its altitude had already been previously corrected during US 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. Credit: NASA TV/AFP/Archives – Handout

No specific 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’s chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters, adding that the agency had accepted the study at no cost to it financially. The official emphasized that there are currently no plans to implement or fund a mission until all of the potential technical challenges are One of the biggest hurdles is the lack of a robotic arm on Dragon, unlike the shuttles, and would therefore need modifications .SpaceX came up with the idea in collaboration with the Polaris program, a private space company.

When asked if such a mission could be seen as a way to give rich people something to do in space, Thomas Zurbuchen said: “I think it was very timely for us to review (such a task) because of the extraordinary value that this research asset has for us“, referring 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 discovery 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 it will lose orbit in 2037, said Patrick Crouse, the Hubble project manager.

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