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WASHINGTON (AFP) – NASA and SpaceX will explore the possibility of awarding Elon Musk’s company a mission aimed at sending the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit to extend its life, the US space agency announced Thursday.
The famous telescope, which has been operating at a distance of about 540 kilometers from Earth since 1990, has seen its orbit slowly deteriorate due to the atmospheric friction it still experiences, even at reduced proportions.
Hubble had no means of propulsion, and its altitude had already been fixed during American space shuttle missions.
The proposed new mission will see the use of SpaceX’s Dragon rocket.
“A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea of a study to see if a commercial group could inspire” Hubble, NASA Chief Science Officer Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters, adding that the agency accepted the study at no cost. Anything financially.
The official emphasized that there are currently no firm plans to conduct or fund a mission until all potential technical challenges are better understood.
One of the major hurdles is that Dragon does not have a robotic arm unlike space shuttles, so modifications will be required.
SpaceX came up with the idea in partnership with the private spaceflight company Polaris Program.
Asked if he could see a mission like this as a way to do something for the wealthy in space, Thomas Zurbuchen said: “I think it’s very timely that we see (such a mission) because of the extraordinary value. We have the research property, which represents the Hubble telescope.
Considered one of the most important scientific instruments in history, Hubble continues to make important discoveries, including this year’s discovery of the most distant individual star ever observed, Erendel, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach us.
The telescope is currently scheduled to operate until the end of the decade, with a 50% chance of losing orbit in 2037, Hubble project manager Patrick Kruse said.
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