Hubble has gone from having its days numbered to someone offering to go to its rescue: SpaceX

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If no one prevents it, the Hubble telescope, which for so many years was at the forefront of space exploration, will end up losing height until it is destroyed by friction against the Earth’s atmosphere. Now SpaceX wants to be the one to stop it and is working with NASA to give Hubble a boost to extend its lifespan.


Losing height.
NASA announced A few weeks ago I was working with the company SpaceX studying the feasibility of a mission dedicated to extending the useful life of Hubble. The problem they propose to solve is the progressive fall of the orbital telescope caused by friction with the outermost layers of the atmosphere.

Hubble was launched in 1990 and operates about 540 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. about 60 kilometers below from its initial orbit and with a decaying trajectory. Left to its own devices, Hubble will gradually fall. First the friction with the atmosphere will cause it to start rotating. The flywheels are responsible for keeping the telescope stable, but their capacity has limits.

friction will end up forcing reentry runaway from the telescope in the atmosphere. This reentry would happen in the mid-2030s when the telescope’s orbit dropped below 120 kilometers. That is if nothing speeds up or slows down Hubble’s decay process.

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An increasingly difficult rescue.
The battle to rescue Hubble is a battle against time that would conclude long before the telescope entered its uncontrolled fall phase. According to NASA calculations, with an orbit below 500 kilometers it would be impossible to capture Hubble and re-drive it into a new orbit. 2027 would be the deadline for a rescue mission.

NASA is now studying together with SpaceX the possibility of extending the life of Hubble. The idea would be to “push” the space telescope, more or less as it was done on several occasions between 1993 and 2009, taking advantage of the space telescope’s repair and modification missions, missions that after the withdrawal of the space shuttle became remarkably complicated. Now SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules could fill this gap.

Polaris.
The third agent involved in this maneuver is the tycoon Jared Isaacman. The billionaire who led SpaceX’s first manned commercial expedition has not ended his collaboration with Musk’s company. A few months ago he announced the creation of Polaris, a space program with three missions that encompasses not only trips aboard the combined Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon but also encompasses what should be the first manned Starship flight.

Among the mission’s goals is completing the farthest manned orbit from Earth and conducting the first commercial spacewalk. If the plan to extend Hubble’s life advances, the mission will be carried out within the framework of this program.

No cost to the public treasury.
The offer for the mission comes, at least in principle, without a price tag. The proposal should have a zero or almost zero cost for the US space agency, although it is not known if the cost would be borne by SpaceX or by Isaacman himself.

As explained by NASA when announcing the agreement, the study would be “designed to help the agency understand the commercial possibilities.”

The agency’s decision, therefore, is not based on an economic feasibility study but on technical feasibility. “We don’t want to do anything that is going to put Hubble at risk of any kind.” Jessica Jensen clarifiedvice president of SpaceX.

The Crew Dragon tug.
The Crew Dragon capsule would be in charge of performing the functions of the space shuttle in this mission. For this, some modifications had to be made in its design. One of the reasons, explains Daniel Marinis that the capsule must be attached to the Hubble from the rear in order to take advantage of the power of its motors when driving the telescope.

Is it worth the hassle?
Once the question of whether it can be done is resolved, the question of whether it is necessary to carry out the mission must be answered. This does not contemplate more arrangements in the special telescope than its towing to a higher orbit.

At 32 years old, Hubble has a long way to go and many of its instruments will already be in discount time when the end of their useful life arrives. The ailments of age are already taking their toll on Hubble, but it is undeniable that the veteran telescope continues to give us spectacular images.

Hubble can still help its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, by taking work away from it and thus reducing the waiting time that astronomers have to save before the potential of the new telescope is available.

Image | POT

If no one prevents it, the Hubble telescope, which for so many years was at the forefront of space exploration,…

If no one prevents it, the Hubble telescope, which for so many years was at the forefront of space exploration,…

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