Designed by NASA and with the participation of the European Space Agency, it is now more than 32 years ago Hubble Space Telescope was deployed to low Earth orbit. It was launched in April 1990 aboard the American space shuttle Discovery.
Hubble has experienced five maintenance operations during shuttle missions. The most recent and ultimate servicing mission dates back to 2009 during flight STS-125 with space shuttle Atlantis and seven astronauts.
For infrared observations, the James Webb Space Telescope has taken over from Hubble, but its retirement has not yet come. The two telescopes have just observed the impact of the DART mission on the asteroid Dimorphos simultaneously.
A slowly worsening trajectory
While Hubble has been in operation since 1990, its current orbit is just under 535 km above Earth, and it breaks down slowly over time. It had been raised to 567 km in 2009. Remember that the James telescope is not in Earth orbit, but at the Lagrange L2 Earth-Sun point about 1.5 million kilometers from us.
It is between 2030 and 2040, and rather towards the end of this decade, that the Hubble telescope should experience a fatal atmospheric re-entry. The surprise is that Nasa reveals today that they have signed with SpaceX an agreement on a preliminary study to raise Hubble’s orbit. The idea would be to do it with a Dragon space capsule.
It has been several months since such an idea was submitted by SpaceX and in cooperation with the program Polaris private manned space flight. This program is organized by Jared Isaacman, who was the originator and commander of the Inspiration4 mission aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. In September 2021 and for a duration of three days, Inspiration4 put four people (no professional astronauts) into a low Earth orbit of up to 585 km.
NASA temperament, SpaceX can already see it
” NASA has no does not intend to perform or finance a maintenance mission or to compete with this option. The survey is designed to help the agency understand business opportunities “, NASA emphasizes in its communication. Nowhere else does the study have an exclusive character.
For a period of 6 months, the survey will collect technical data on the Hubble Space Telescope and on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. They will help assess the feasibility of docking and moving Hubble into a more stable orbit in complete safety.
” Missions like the Hubble Service will help us expand space capabilities to ultimately help us all achieve our goal of becoming a spacefaring, multiplanetary civilization. “This is not Elon Musk, but a statement from Jessica Jensen.
The head of customer operations at SpaceX adds that she wants to show how business partnerships can creatively solve complex problems. Note that the survey does not concern a complete maintenance of Hubble.