NASA and SpaceX have decided to study the feasibility of awarding Elon Musk’s company a contract to propel the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit, with the aim of extending its useful life, the space agency said on Thursday (29) American.
The renowned observatory has been operating since 1990 at about 540 kilometers from Earth, an orbit that slowly decays over time.
Hubble lacks onboard propulsion to counter the small but notable atmospheric resistance in this area of space, and its altitude was previously re-established during space shuttle missions.
The new project would involve a SpaceX Dragon capsule. “A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea of studying whether a commercial crew could help propel our Hubble spacecraft,” NASA Chief Scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters, adding that the agency had accepted the proposal. study at no cost.
Zurbuchen stressed, however, that there are no concrete plans at the moment to conduct or finance such a mission until its technical challenges are better understood.
SpaceX proposed the idea in partnership with the Polaris Program, a private manned spaceflight company run by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who last year leased a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to orbit Earth with three other private astronauts.
In response to a reporter who asked if there could be a perception that the mission was designed to give the wealthy tasks in space, Zurbuchen replied: “I believe it is appropriate that we consider it given the tremendous value this research asset has for us. “
Possibly one of the most valuable instruments in scientific history, Hubble continues to make important discoveries, including this year’s detection of the farthest single star ever seen, Eärendel, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach Earth.
The telescope is currently expected to remain in operation throughout this decade, with a 50% chance of deorbiting by 2037, according to Patrick Crouse, Hubble’s project manager.
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