NASA refuses to abandon Hubble and calls for an extension

A pop culture icon, the Hubble Space Telescope may continue to operate much longer than its successor, the James Webb Telescope. In fact, NASA doesn’t seem to want to decide to abandon it. A few days before Christmas, it launched a call for ideas from companies in the space industry to extend Hubble’s lifespan!

Launched in April 1990 by the Space Shuttle Discovery, the Hubble Space Telescope is still active and continues its scientific observations. But if its instruments are in good working order, the satellite’s restrictions, which to some extent keep it afloat, are at the end of their useful life. Added to that is that your orbitorbit it’s deteriorating a little more each day and that’s a real cause for concern.

today if Hubble is about 535 kilometers above sea level. said Patrick Crouse, Hubble program manager at the Goddard Space Center in NASANASA in October 2022, at the current rate of decline in its orbit, there is ” a 50% probability that Hubble will enter theatmosphere until 2037 “.

It is therefore in this context of uncertainty about the fate of Hubble that NASA published a few days before Christmas a ” Request for Information » with companies and manufacturers in the space sector in order to expand the durationduration Hubble’s life raising its orbit to at least 600 kilometers above sea level. The US space agency said it was looking for “ technical information about how the company would accomplish the mission, the risks involved, and the chances of success “.

In the New Space Era, Anything Seems Possible

NASA’s idea is not to fund a mission to raise Hubble’s orbit, but to use commercial satellite maintenance services from private companies that would take care of it. The call for ideas states that ” the partner(s) must participate in this mission and carry it out without exchanging funds, the companies being responsible for the cost of the mission “. What needs to be understood is that NASA wants to take advantage of the innovations of a commercial space industry that develops and matures new technologies and capabilities in providing services to satellites in orbit. But if Hubble is the main target, NASA also has in mind other old government satellites for which there is an obvious interest in extending service life.

This Request for Information (RFI) comes nearly three months after NASA announced an agreement with SpaceX on studying a Crew Dragon mission to Hubble in order to restart it and possibly perform maintenance on the telescope (read our article below). At the time, NASA officials said they remained open to similar deals with other companies. So that’s what seems to be taking shape.

Did you know ?

Since its conception, the telescope was designed to allow astronauts to make short maintenance visits to it, as was the case in 1993, 1997, late 1999 and 2002. These missions have been very useful. Much has contributed to the longevity of its operational activity through maintenance interventions, replacement of instruments and solar panels, for example, but above all through the repair of various elements that have broken down, such as the gyroscopes.

This request for information-call for ideas is interesting in that it may provide information on existing commercial capabilities, which should help NASA in its future choices and guidelines regarding the immediate future of its satellites located in very low orbits. The deadline for responses has been set for January 24th. NASA has not indicated when it might decide to support a possible project to raise Hubble’s orbit, but time is running out. Although its consequences inatmosphereatmosphere is not expected before the mid-2030s, it should be noted that Hubble’s orbit should decrease to an altitude of 500 kilometers by 2025. At that altitude, the orbital rendezvous will be very difficult to achieve, as will the ascent.


Article of Remy DecourtRemy Decourt published on 03/10/2022

Launched in April 1990, Hubble is still running. SpaceX offered NASA to send a Crew Dragon to raise the Space Telescope’s orbit, which would extend its lifespan until 2050! This mission could be carried out under the program polarispolaris. An idea that NASA likes. In six months, SpaceX will present a feasibility study to NASA, which will decide whether or not to finance such a mission to Hubble.

NASA and SpaceX announced the study of a mission concept to send a Crew Dragon to raise the orbit of the Hubble Space TelescopeHubble Space Telescope, or even carry out some maintenance tasks that remain to be defined. The objective of this mission is to extend the useful life of this telescope that has revolutionized modern astronomy.

This study will take about six months, said Jessica Jensen, SpaceX’s vice president of customer operations and onboarding. part of the study will be to determine the cost, schedule and what will need to be done to complete the mission safely “, she said. The study will focus mainly on the technical aspects of a reset or maintenance mission, she said, ” but, everything is on the table “. Including the “ whether the mission would require astronauts “, she concludes.

Raising the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope

The idea would be to send a Crew Dragon to dock with Hubble, presumably using the capture mechanism installed during the shuttle’s last service mission in 2009, and increase its orbit by several tens of kilometers. Today, ” Hubble is about 535 kilometers above sea level. said Patrick Crouse, Hubble program manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Center. At the current rate of decline in Hubble’s orbit, there is ” 50% chance Hubble will re-enter the atmosphere in 2037 “.

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The goal of SpaceX’s mission would be to bring Hubble back to an altitude of about 600 kilometers where its mission began in April 1990, more than thirty years ago. If that’s the case, ” that would add 15 or even 20 years of life to Hubble ! This mission” obviously will not reach the level of complexity of some of the maintenance missions that have been carried out in the past with the shuttle », wants to specify Patrick Crouse, but very impatient « to study the proposals made by SpaceX “.

If NASA and SpaceX decide on such a mission, it could be part of the Polaris program, an initiative by SpaceX and Jared Isaacman that plans to carry out several manned flightsmanned flights commercial aboard the Crew Dragon and the starshipstarship when in operation. Jared Isaacman, who led the Inspiration4 private mission a year ago, will command the first Polaris mission, polaris dawn, now scheduled for the first quarter of 2023. This flight will include the first spacewalk by a Crew Dragon spacecraft. Isaacman suggested that this Hubble reset or maintenance mission could be the second Polaris mission.

This initiative by SpaceX and Jared Isaacman can provide ideas for companies that develop and deliver satellite service missions. This is particularly the case for the Northrop Grumman MEV vehicle, two of which are linked to Intelsat communication satellites in geostationary orbitgeostationary orbit to prolong its life.

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