NASA and SpaceX study boosting the Hubble telescope to a higher orbit

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

“Hubble is amazingly successful. It’s delivering great science as we speak,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, during a press conference.

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

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

Jessica Jensen, Vice President of Customer Operations and Integration at SpaceX, said the private space company “has a lot of experience docking (spacecraft) to the International Space Station.”

Jensen said SpaceX wants to use this knowledge as a basis and see if a similar docking maneuver can be carried out with the Hubble telescope.

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

Launched in 1990, the space observatory had many service missions during the era of NASA’s space shuttle, with Last mission carried out in 2009. But the space agency The space shuttle retired in 2011and no spacecraft has returned since then.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft missions captured much of the work the space shuttle program used to do, including transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

It may be trying to send a special mission to Hubble A Part of the previously announced and privately funded SpaceX program is called Polaris. The program is the brainchild of Jared Isakman, the billionaire CEO of payments platform Shift4, who first attracted international attention when he He paid the company to take himself and three guests on a three-day trip into orbit a land On board the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule last year.

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

The first flight in the program, called Polaris Dawn, is expected to last up to five days. It will include a crew of Isaacman and three other people, who will ride aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to the Van Allen radiation belt, which stretches from about 400 to 6,000 miles (644 to 9,656 kilometers) above Earth. Scheduled to take off no later than March 2023.

At a press conference Thursday, Isaacman said that a second Polaris mission could be a great candidate for sending a SpaceX capsule to Hubble.

It is not yet clear whether an autonomous, unmanned spacecraft can perform a Hubble service mission rather than requiring an onboard crew, according to Jensen.

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

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

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