After Hubble Space Telescope was successfully launched into low Earth Orbit in April 1990, only five astronauts have visited it in the past two decades. These set of astronauts reached the Space Telescope on NASA space shuttle missions.
Their primary goals were to repair, upgrade and maintain the powerful telescope, to enable it to look deeper and clearer into space, and make newer discoveries for humanity. The last time NASA’s astronauts visited the Hubble Space Telescope was in 2009 during the STS-125 mission. That was the fifth and last NASA space shuttle mission sent to repair and upgrade Hubble’s instruments. The space telescope continued its operation until this day because of the last upgrade made by the STS-125 crew in the past two decades.
After NASA officially retired its space shuttle in 2011, the agency looked forward to continuing servicing the Hubble Space Telescope with other available options. On September 29, NASA officially announced that it will be conducting joint research alongside SpaceX to consider the idea of sending a Dragon Capsule to visit the Hubble Space Telescope. The American space agency came with this intention as it anticipates boosting the telescope’s orbit and providing other services using the SpaceX Dragon Capsule.
The primary goal why NASA and SpaceX are looking at this mission is to boost Hubble’s operations and enable it to look further into deep space. This announcement implies that a feasibility study will be conducted before NASA will consider sending SpaceX Dragon Capsule to boost Hubble’s Orbit. The study will probably last for six months and will not be funded by NASA.
Why NASA and SpaceX are considering sending Dragon Capsule to Service Hubble Space Telescope and Boost its Orbit
The last time Hubble Space Telescope was serviced was in 2009, implying that the iconic scope has not received any maintenance, repair, or upgrade services for the past 13 years. Keep in mind that NASA spent around $1.5 billion developing and launching the sophisticated Space Telescope into orbit. Over the years, the Hubble Space Telescope has continued to provide us with relevant images of the Universe.
But a telescope that has remained for about 13 years in space without servicing may be operating with lower efficiency as it is descended to a lower altitude. NASA is already seeing the need to advance its research using the Hubble Space Telescope. However, to do this effectively, the space agency needs a trusted and reliable space capsule.
Based on the success of the SpaceX Dragon Capsule in reaching the International Space Station, NASA is looking at entrusting its next Hubble visit with the sophisticated Capsule. After the American Space Agency officially announced this collaboration with SpaceX, the science communities across the globe began to see a new future for the Hubble Space Telescope.
However, the outcome of the feasibility study will surely determine whether NASA and SpaceX will proceed to implement this mission. During a press conference yesterday, Jessica Jensen, who serves as the Vice President of Customer Operation and Integration at SpaceX shared her view about the partnership.
“We want to benefit Hubble. And if benefiting Hubble means not just boosting it but also providing some servicing, and that can be done with a human spaceflight mission, all the better,” Jensen said. “So, it’s all on the table. We’re going to be looking at Dragon’s capabilities and how they would need to be modified in order to safely rendezvous and dock with Hubble. Details of exactly physically how that’s done, and how we also safely do that from a trajectory point of view — that’s all to be worked out.”
Jensen also revealed that a Dragon Hubble Mission may not actually need astronauts, as NASA and SpaceX experts will explore the idea of conducting an uncrewed mission using Dragon or any other vehicle to meet the mission requirements.
Why Hubble Space Telescope Needs Our Immediate Attention
Currently, Hubble Space Telescope is operating in good health conditions and has never stopped sending us fascinating images of the universe. It even recently captured the Didymos asteroid system after NASA’s DART spacecraft crashed into one of its space rocks to change its course. But NASA has realized that Hubble’s orbit has decayed slightly over the past 33 years because of atmospheric drag.
If Hubble continues its operation in the same orbit, its efficiency will continue to reduce over time. The iconic scope is currently orbiting around Earth at an altitude of 355 miles (540). This is almost 38 miles (60 km) closer to Earth than its previous orbit. Patrick Crouse, who serves as the Hubble Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland recently used Hubble’s current altitude to estimate that the iconic space scope has an almost 50 percent chance of falling back to Earth in 2037.
NASA never planned to end Hubble’s mission in this manner. In fact, the American space agency is looking at retiring Hubble following a more controlled means at the end of its mission in space. The agency is exploring the idea of launching a robotic mission to the Hubble telescope to deorbit it safely. Crouse revealed during a press conference that the deorbit mission may likely occur towards the end of the 2020s if NASA fails to apply an orbital boost on the scope.
But if NASA and SpaceX successfully boost Hubble’s Altitude to reach 373 miles (600 km), the sophisticated scope could remain active for about two more decades before deorbiting. However, the outcome of the feasibility study will determine when NASA will launch this mission.
NASA is considering prolonging Hubble’s lifespan in Space by conducting a study with SpaceX to boost its orbit. This feasibility will last for six months before the agency will conclude on how to conduct the mission. One thing is certain, NASA will surely arrive at a satisfactory conclusion that will service and boost the Hubble space telescope into a higher orbit. What do you think about this giant step?