NASA and SpaceX have a plan to help Hubble

NASA and SpaceX have a plan to help Hubble

NASA and SpaceX are considering an action plan dedicated to Hubble. NASA SpaceX will allow a spacecraft to “push” the space telescope into a higher orbit to send it.

Things are clear: NASA has no intention of running or funding a servicing mission to Hubble. It was not in his plan. The agency does not have a spacecraft capable of docking with the space telescope. Its space shuttle was withdrawn from service in July 2011. Remote interventions, maintenance or correction are the only thing imaginable.

So why not outsource this task to a trusted third party that has this expertise that NASA does not have? This is precisely the reflection of agencyWith a six-month study with SpaceX, Announced on September 29. The general idea: to assess whether a vehicle from an American company could be used without damaging Hubble and maneuvering it.

What if the Dragon capsule arrives to push Hubble? //Source: Shane Kimbrough

SpaceX has developed the capability to access space with its Falcon 9 launcher (which could be ruled out in a muscular version with the Falcon Heavy). He has produced capsules capable of carrying cargo or personnel in orbit around the Earth – about 400 km to reach the International Space Station.

Hubble is a target within SpaceX range

It turns out that the Hubble Space Telescope isn’t that far away: it’s placed 600 km above sea level, about as far as the SpaceX spacecraft can travel. The company covered 585 km and proved it with the Inspiration4 mission. It also knows how to lock in its own speed on its destination: when they reach the ISS, the capsules smoothly dock with the dock.

The US space agency indicates that it does not want to work with SpaceX on this matter. In fact, additional contributions with various missiles and ships are also welcome. It is true that NASA is more likely to sign a project with SpaceX given its lead, expertise and experience.

SpaceX is actually very interested in Hubble’s potential maintenance program because it would be an opportunity to acquire additional capabilities that could be reused. The American company is preparing a project called Polaris, the first part of which aims to conduct an extra-vehicular mission – a first for a private company.

Hubble NASA Telescope 2002
Hubble in 2002. A space telescope is very close to Earth. //Source: NASA

Key issues include the space between Hubble and the spacecraft (from SpaceX or others), soft docking to avoid damage, and the ability to push the telescope to another orbit. Over time, Hubble’s orbit deteriorates. This boost would extend his career by a few years.

The results of the study will lead to design changes to the spacecraft and better communication with Hubble.

For example, say astronauts boarding a capsule to replace a component on Hubble, the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčlinking such an operation to human maintenance is not currently mentioned. But in the medium to long term, we’re guessing that the ongoing discussions between NASA and SpaceX or others will lead to this kind of intervention.

The end of Hubble’s life is not currently planned – its life will end in 2030 or 2040. The help of one (or more years?) of SpaceX push could change that timeline. But beyond Hubble, the program could be applied to other spacecraft in general, putting them back into a good orbit.


Servicing Mission in May 2009.  // Source: Flickr/CC/Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center (cropped photo)

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