NASA and SpaceX will jointly study the possibility of servicing the Hubble telescope

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NASA and SpaceX will jointly study the possibility of servicing the Hubble telescope

It has now been more than 30 years since the telescope Hubble is in space. The space observatory was launched in April 1990, and it was able to remain operational thanks to several maintenance missions launched by NASA. During 5 assignmentsastronauts were transported by the space shuttles to repair and update the telescope.

After the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, no more Hubble servicing missions were launched. However, this could change in the future since, according to an announcement made by NASA on September 29, the agency and SpaceX will study together the possibility of using the capsule Dragon to perform Hubble maintenance work. This includes raising the telescope’s orbit using the capsule.

Hubble and Dragon
NASA/SpaceX Credits

For the moment, it is still only a feasibility study. No mission is yet in preparation. The study will last 6 months and NASA will not pay any money for its realization.

Hubble’s situation

Currently, the telescope Hubble continues to operate normally. Nevertheless, its orbit is degrading due to atmospheric resistance. Hubble is currently orbiting the Earth at an altitude of about 540 km, 60 km lower than its initial altitude of 600 km.

With this current altitude, there is 50% chance that the space observatory will fall back to Earth in 2037, as indicated by Patrick House, project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The latter has already planned a plan to control the fall of Hubble towards the end of this decade.

If a maintenance mission is eventually executed, Hubble will not have to be destroyed. It will be able to return to an orbit of 600 km altitude and continue to operate normally.

SpaceX is already well advanced

Regarding the feasibility study, Jessica Jensen, vice president of customer operations and integration at SpaceX, indicated that they would study the capabilities of the Dragon capsule and the changes needed to be able to run docking with Hubble. Jensen added that if the mission is ultimately approved, it will not be required to be inhabited.

The results of this feasibility study are expected to be positive. SpaceX indeed already has in place an architecture that would be suitable for this kind of missionand this is the Polaris Program. The latter is a set of three missions organized by contractor Jared Isaacman who had previously commanded the orbital mission inspiration4 Last year.

Polaris’ first mission is called Polaris Dawnand is scheduled to carry Isaacman and three other passengers into orbit in 2023. During this flight, the astronauts will perform the first-ever spacewalk performed by private astronauts. This is a mission profile that would fit well with servicing Hubble if sending astronauts to do the job is needed.


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