(ORDO NEWS) — NASA is considering a contract with Elon Musk’s company to put the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit to extend its lifespan.
The famous observatory has been operating since 1990 some 540 kilometers above the Earth, in an orbit that slowly decays over time.
Hubble does not have an onboard engine to withstand the slight but still present atmospheric drag in this region of space. The telescope’s orbit was previously corrected during Space Shuttle flights.
The proposed new attempt would include the SpaceX Dragon capsule.
“A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea of doing a study to see if a commercial crew could help reboot our spacecraft,” NASA Chief Scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters, adding that the agency agreed to the study at no cost to itself.
He stressed that concrete plans to conduct or fund such a mission would not emerge until the technical issues were addressed.
One of the main obstacles is that the Dragon spacecraft, unlike the Shuttles, does not have a robotic arm and needs to be modified for such a mission.
SpaceX came up with the idea in partnership with the Polaris program, a private human spaceflight venture.
The company is led by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who last year chartered the SpaceX Crew Dragon to orbit Earth with three other private astronauts.
“That would certainly fit the parameters we set for the Polaris program,” Isaacman said in response to a question about whether a Hubble reboot might be the goal of a future Polaris mission.
Hubble is one of the most valuable instruments in the history of science. He still continues to make important discoveries.
This year he discovered the most distant individual star ever seen, Earendel. Its light took 12.9 billion years to reach us.
Patrick Krause, project manager for the Hubble Space Telescope, said the telescope is predicted to be operational throughout this decade, with a 50 percent chance of deorbiting in 2037.
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