NASA and SpaceX study boosting Hubble to higher orbit in a bid to extend its lifespan |  CNN Business

NASA and SpaceX study boosting Hubble to higher orbit in a bid to extend its lifespan | CNN Business

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NASA officials have signed a space law agreement with SpaceX to investigate the benefits and risks of having a private mission providing services to NASA’s nearly 33-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, propelling it to a higher orbit to extend its lifespan, the space agency announced Thursday.

“Hubble is incredibly successful. … It’s doing great science as we speak,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told a news conference.

But SpaceX approached the space agency a few months ago with the idea, he said, and the NASA team now plans to assess how a private mission could help “boost” and nurture the telescope.

Zurbuchen added that it is not yet certain whether such a mission can be carried out or not, and that the objective of the agreement is simply to explore the technical feasibility of the idea.

Jessica Jensen, vice president of customer operations and integration at SpaceX, said the private aerospace company “has a lot of experience docking (spacecraft) with the International Space Station.”

SpaceX wants to use this knowledge as a baseline and find out if it’s possible to perform a similar docking maneuver with the Hubble Telescope, Jensen said.

This could be done “at no cost to the government,” according to a NASA press release. The space law agreement itself will not involve any exchange of funds, according to the statement.

Launched in 1990, the space observatory has had several servicing missions during NASA’s space shuttle era, with the last mission being flown in 2009. But the space agency retired the space shuttle in 2011, and no spacecraft have returned since.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft missions have already taken over much of the work the space shuttle program previously did, including ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS.

A Servicing Mission 4 crew member took this photo of the Hubble Telescope just after Space Shuttle Atlantis captured it with its robotic arm on May 13, 2009, beginning the upgrade and repair mission of the telescope.

The effort to send a private mission to Hubble could be a part of a previously announced privately funded SpaceX program called Polaris. The program is the brainchild of Jared Isaacman, the billionaire CEO of payment platform Shift4, who first gained international attention when he paid the company to take three guests on a three-day trip in orbit around the Earth. aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule last year.

He announced the Polaris program in February, and at the time he said the program would include at least three missions with SpaceX.

The program’s first flight, called Polaris Dawn, is expected to last up to five days. It will include a crew of Isaacman and three others, who will ride a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to the Van Allen Radiation Belt, which has an inner band that extends from about 400 to 6 000 miles (644 to 9,656 kilometers) above the Earth. Its take-off is scheduled for March 2023 at the earliest.

The second Polaris mission could be an excellent candidate to send a SpaceX capsule to Hubble, Isaacman said at Thursday’s press conference.

According to Jensen, it’s not yet clear whether an autonomous, uncrewed spacecraft could perform a Hubble service mission instead of requiring a crew on board.

Zurbuchen added that this is all part of what SpaceX and NASA will explore as part of this space law agreement.

“We’re looking for crazy ideas all the time,” he said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

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