In a press conference Thursday, NASA announced it is looking into the possibility of partnering with SpaceX to boost the legendary Hubble Space Telescope into a more stable orbit – something many people joked about but didn’t think would ever be real.
Hubble could get a boost from SpaceX
It turns out SpaceX reached out to NASA, not the other way around, to see if a commercial crew mission could boost the orbit of the Hubble telescope when its life comes closer to an end. This is sad to hear for those that don’t want to accept the possible ending of an era, but Hubble is over 30 years old and has gone through several scares of failed systems in recent years. Despite this, Hubble is still doing well and has plenty of years ahead of it – whether or not it gets this boost from SpaceX.
NASA and SpaceX signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement to produce a study on the capability of using Dragon to dock with Hubble and boost it into its original 372-mile orbit around Earth. This isn’t an announcement that SpaceX will do so, or a promise that NASA will sign off on the mission, but it is one step closer to having it become a possibility. According to both NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zubuchen and Hubble’s project manager Patrick Crouse, the space observatory is in good condition and is expected to last well through this decade and beyond.
If this Hubble mission is deemed possible, the mission would launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 with a Crew Dragon.
Commerical space has come a long way
Again, here I am telling you just how far the commercial space sector has come in recent decades, but it has truly come full circle for NASA. A private astronaut crew will now use a commercial rocket and spacecraft funded by NASA to service one of NASA’s prize missions.
This mission could end up being a part of The Polaris Program, a private space program funded and run by Jared Issacman, who flew to space on Inspiration 4. Issacman said if the study proves the mission is feasible, this could become Polaris’ second mission. The Polaris Dawn flight, the first, is set to launch early next year and will conduct the first commercial spacewalk.
Hubble has become an astronomy icon and produced some of the world’s most famous images of galaxies and nebulas. It has been the top space-based observatory for the past three decades. However, it has been dethroned by the new James Webb Space Telescope, which released its first images later this year. Nevertheless, Hubble still plays a vital role in astronomy and will be used to verify discoveries made by Webb, so its continued survival in orbit is essential.