NASA and SpaceX are considering re-boosting the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope using a Dragon spacecraft in order to increase Hubble's lifespan.
As part of the unfunded Space Act Agreement, NASA and SpaceX signed a letter detailing their intention to explore the feasibility of boosting the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit with the Dragon spacecraft without costing the government anything. This study is intended to help NASA understand the commercial possibilities of a servicing mission rather than conduct or fund one. This study was proposed by SpaceX in conjunction with Polaris Program in order to understand better the technical challenges involved in servicing missions. There is no exclusivity in this study, and other companies might propose similar studies with different rockets or spacecraft to model their study.
SpaceX Dragon and Hubble spacecraft technical data will be collected during the study, which is expected to take up to six months. The data will be used to determine whether the telescope can safely rendezvous, dock, and move into a more stable orbit. In NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, described this study as a great example of what’s possible through private-public partnerships. “As our fleet grows, we want to explore a wide range of opportunities to support the most robust, superlative science missions possible.”
It will be Hubble and Dragon that will be used for this study, but parts of the mission concept may also be applicable to other spacecraft, especially those in near-Earth orbit. The Hubble space telescope has been operating since 1990, about 335 miles above Earth, in an orbit that is slowly degrading over time. By boosting Hubble into a higher, more stable orbit, its lifespan could be extended by several years. Hubble will be de-orbited or disposed of safely after its lifetime has ended.
Jessica Jensen, SpaceX’s vice president of Customer Operations & Integration, said, “SpaceX and the Polaris Program want to explore how commercial partnerships can be used to solve complex, challenging problems.” In order to achieve our goal of becoming a space-faring, multiplanetary civilization, missions like servicing Hubble would assist us in expanding our space capabilities.
A big reason for Hubble’s success is its high altitude, which removes a lot of effects hindering ground-based observers. Because ultraviolet light is blocked by gases such as ozone in the upper atmosphere, ultraviolet astronomy is nearly impossible from the ground. It is because of this, as well as the lack of turbulent air currents that Hubble is able to capture some of the sharpest and most detailed images of the Universe.
Space photographs taken by Hubble always show us how an object looked a long time ago. As a result of the long distance from which light travels, light takes time to reach its destination. A great example of this is the Andromeda Galaxy, our closest galactic neighbor. When we observe it, we look at it as it was almost 2.5 million years ago. Therefore, telescopes like Hubble and James Webb are like time machines that help us study the history of the universe.
The following are some of the major contributions made by Hubble to science. With the help of Hubble, scientists have calculated the universe’s age to be roughly 13 billion years old, three times as old as the Earth. In addition to that, data gathered by the Hubble space telescope enabled scientists to determine the rate at which the universe is expanding. The legendary space telescope has also found that almost every major galaxy is anchored by a black hole located at the center. Hubble also discovered two moons of Pluto, Nix, and Hydra, and helped create a three-dimensional map of dark matter.