SpaceX is working with NASA to explore the possibility of using its Dragon spacecraft to push the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit, thereby extending the life of the mission.
Hubble has operated for 32 years in an orbit around 335 miles above Earth, capturing stunning images and gathering data to help scientists learn more about the universe and its origins. But its orbit is slowly decaying, leaving NASA with the choice of finding a way to raise Hubble into a more stable orbit in a move that would extend the mission for years, or possibly lose it by falling back to Earth.
NASA and SpaceX signed an unfunded space law agreement Thursday (September 22) to explore the possibility of such a project, which could pave the way for similar missions involving other space vehicles.
SpaceX’s Polaris program, led by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman who took to orbit last year on the first all-civilian space trip, is also involved in the project.
The space agency is keen to point out that at this stage it is only carrying out a feasibility study and therefore the mission may not take place, adding that if it does it will not cost the government anything.
He said SpaceX offered the study “to better understand the technical challenges associated with servicing missions,” and said other private companies may also come up with their own similar studies using different space transportation hardware.
The study is expected to take up to six months, which will give those involved enough time to work through the technical challenges of successfully meeting and docking with Hubble, as well as moving it to a more stable orbit.
“This study is an exciting example of the innovative approaches NASA is exploring through public-private partnerships,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “As our fleet grows, we want to explore a wide range of opportunities to support the most robust and exceptional science missions possible.”
Commenting on the work, Jessica Jensen, Vice President of Operations and Customer Onboarding at SpaceX, said, “SpaceX and the Polaris program want to push the boundaries of current technology and explore how commercial partnerships can creatively solve difficult and complex problems. She added that missions such as servicing Hubble would help her “expand her space capabilities to ultimately help us all achieve our goals of becoming a multiplanetary space civilization.”