NASA and SpaceX to investigate whether Crew Dragon spaceship could drag Hubble Space Telescope further from Earth
- NASA, SpaceX, and a billionaire flying on the Crew Dragon spaceship are conducting a study together.
- They're investigating whether Crew Dragon could drag the Hubble Space Telescope to a higher orbit.
If Hubble were further from Earth, its lifetime could be longer. The observatory's eventual death will occur when it loses so much altitude that it succumbs to gravity and falls to Earth. Hubble has already lost about 55 miles of altitude. At that rate, NASA expects it will deorbit in the mid-2030s.
But SpaceX has offered to investigate the possibility of sending one of its Crew Dragon spaceships to grab Hubble and pull it to a higher orbit — a reboost maneuver.
Neither SpaceX nor NASA could say how exactly the reboost would work. That's why they're conducting the six-month feasibility study.
"We're excited to be looking again at new and innovative ways to keep our mission at the forefront of scientific discovery," Patrick Crouse, Hubble Space Telescope project manager, said in a briefing announcing the study on Thursday.
Crouse estimates the maneuver could extend Hubble's life by 15 to 20 years.
Jared Isaacman, a billionaire who flew to space aboard a Crew Dragon last year, was in the press conference and will participate in the study. Isaacman recently purchased three flights on SpaceX vehicles for a program called Polaris. The first mission would take Isaacman and a few others, aboard Crew Dragon, to the highest Earth orbit ever flown by humans. They plan to conduct the first ever commercial spacewalk, donning new SpaceX spacesuits and exiting the vehicle.
When asked in the briefing whether one of his Polaris missions would do the Hubble reboost, Isaacman said "I think we cross the bridge on who's ultimately flying it if the study ultimately supports embarking on a mission."
Still, he said, "this would certainly fit within the parameters we established for the Polaris program."
There's a chance SpaceX and NASA will find it's a bad idea, though.
"We don't want to do something that's going to put Hubble at risk at all," Jessica Jensen, vice president of customer operations and integration at SpaceX, said in the briefing.
NASA is not paying SpaceX to conduct the study. It's not clear whether SpaceX or Isaacman will cover the costs.
NASA is also open to proposals from other companies that might want to perform the reboost, though none of its commercial partners have yet expressed an interest in doing so.
SpaceX and Isaacman said there's a chance the effort could be done with "little or no potential cost to the government."
NASA used to fly astronauts to Hubble to conduct repairs to the Earth-orbiting telescope. But those missions have not been possible since the agency retired its Space Shuttles. The last Hubble servicing mission was in 2009.
This story has been updated with new information.
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