SpaceX and NASA have agreed to see if a Dragon spacecraft can visit and potentially help extend the life of the Hubble Space Telescope. The research will last about six months and will involve engineers from the space agency and Elon Musk’s company.
In addition, the Polaris program, a private human spaceflight initiative funded by billionaire Jason Isaacman, is to help with the research. Earlier this year, he bought three space flights on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, a series of missions he calls Polaris.
It is not yet known whether a crew is needed to fly to Hubble, or whether Dragon’s autonomous cargo pods will be suitable for this, and whether it is even possible for a SpaceX spacecraft to visit the telescope safely. There are many unknowns for this potential mission, so research would be very appropriate.
During its 32 years of existence, Hubble, which is in low Earth orbit, has already needed repairs and modernization. NASA’s space shuttle has carried out five missions to the space telescope. Since the last mission in 2009, Hubble’s orbit has slowly degraded as it approaches the outer edges of Earth’s atmosphere. The telescope is now about 30 kilometers closer to Earth than it was in 2009. Upgrading Hubble could help extend its life.
However, NASA has no plans to restore Hubble]s work on its own. During the announcement of the start of the research, the panelists repeatedly emphasized that the telescope “is still in good shape.” Even without a new mission, Hubble is expected to still be able to work.
“Thanks to improvements of past servicing missions, we expect Hubble to remain operational until the latter part of this decade, if not into the next,” said Patrick Crouse, Hubble Space Telescope project manager.
If the mission is feasible, and if it is approved, it will show that the company can work on space technologies that were not designed with SpaceX in mind.
“SpaceX really sees the future in that we are a spacefaring civilization. And that means that there are spaceships flying all over the place. There’s on-orbit refueling. There’s space stations from various companies,” said Jessica Jensen, vice president of customer operations and integration at SpaceX. “Missions like this, where companies are learning to adapt and figure out ways to talk to older vehicles … I think that’s an amazing capability and that’s how the industry needs to move forward.”
Although Hubble has been somewhat overshadowed recently by the amazing images from the new James Webb Space Telescope, it continues to produce amazing images of the universe. In March, the telescope discovered the oldest known star, and this week it captured incredible images from the DART mission, which sent the spacecraft on a collision course with an asteroid.