SpaceX is working with NASA to explore the possibility of using its Dragon spacecraft to push the Hubble Space Telescope to a higher orbit, thereby extending the life of the mission.
Hubble has been operating for the last 32 years in an orbit around 335 miles above Earth, capturing stunning imagery and gathering data to help scientists learn more about the universe and its origins. But its orbit is slowly decaying, leaving NASA with the choice of finding a way to raise Hubble to a more stable orbit in a move that would extend the mission by years, or eventually losing it as it falls back to Earth.
NASA and SpaceX signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement on Thursday, September 22, to study the possibility of such a project, which could pave the way for similar missions involving other space vehicles.
SpaceX’s Polaris Program, led by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman who traveled to orbit last year in the first all-civilian space voyage, is also involved in the project.
The space agency is keen to point out that at this stage they are merely conducting a feasibility study and therefore the mission may not take place, adding that if it does it will come at no cost to the government.
It said that SpaceX had proposed the study “to better understand the technical challenges associated with servicing missions,” and said that other private companies may also come forward with their own similar studies using different space transportation hardware.
The study is likely to take up to six months, giving those involved plenty of time to work out the technical challenges involved in achieving a successful rendezvous and docking with Hubble, as well as moving it to a more stable orbit.
“This study is an exciting example of the innovative approaches NASA is exploring through private-public partnerships,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “As our fleet grows, we want to explore a wide range of opportunities to support the most robust, superlative science missions possible.”
Commenting on the work, Jessica Jensen, vice president of Customer Operations and Integration at SpaceX, said: “SpaceX and the Polaris Program want to expand the boundaries of current technology and explore how commercial partnerships can creatively solve challenging, complex problems. She added that missions such as servicing Hubble would help help it to “expand space capabilities to ultimately help all of us achieve our goals of becoming a space-faring, multiplanetary civilization.”
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