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NASA officials have entered into a Space Act Agreement with SpaceX to investigate the benefits and risks of having a private mission servicing NASA’s nearly 33-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, taking it to a higher orbit to extend its life. , the space agency announced Thursday.
“Hubble is incredibly successful. … He is doing some great science as we speak,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, during 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 maintain the telescope.
Zurbuchen added that it is not yet clear whether or not such a mission could be carried out, and the purpose of the agreement is only to explore the technical feasibility of the idea.
Jessica Jensen, SpaceX’s vice president of customer operations and integration, said the private aerospace company “has a lot of experience docking (spacecraft) with the International Space Station.”
SpaceX wants to build on that knowledge and find out if a similar docking maneuver with the Hubble telescope is possible, Jensen said.
It 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 carried out in 2009. But the space agency retired the space shuttle in 2011and no spacecraft have returned since.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft missions have already taken over much of the work that the space shuttle program used to do, including transporting astronauts to and from the ISS.
The effort to send a private mission to Hubble could be a part of a previously announced and privately funded SpaceX program called Polaris. That program is the brainchild of Jared Isaacman, the billionaire CEO of payments platform Shift4, who first gained international attention when He paid the company to take him and three guests on a three-day trip to orbit. Land aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule last year.
The Announced the Polaris program in February, and at the time said the program would encompass 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 an Isaacman crew and three others, traveling aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to the Van Allen radiation belt, which has an inner band that stretches from about 400 to 6,000 miles (644 to 9,656 kilometers). on Earth. It is scheduled to take off no sooner than March 2023.
The second Polaris mission could be a great candidate to send a SpaceX capsule to Hubble, Isaacman said at Thursday’s news conference.
It’s not yet clear whether an autonomous, uncrewed spacecraft could carry out a Hubble servicing mission instead of requiring an onboard crew, according to Jensen.
Zurbuchen added that it’s all part of what SpaceX and NASA will explore as part of this Space Law Agreement.
“We’re seeing crazy ideas all the time,” he said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
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