Billionaires want to save Hubble. He will fall to Earth without help

  • Hubble has been in service for over three decades, but its time is running out. The problem is that the altitude at which it is located is constantly lowering
  • The telescope could be saved by giving it a “kick” – restoring its original height. However, NASA did not have such a mission planned
  • Now the Agency wants to come up with a rescue plan together with private partners, who will also put up money
  • More important information can be found on the Onet homepage

The Hubble Space Telescope is a veteran of space exploration – and the most efficient factory of beautiful wallpapers that adorn the screens of countless electronic devices on Earth. However, after 32 years of uninterrupted service, the observatory is nearing the end of its orbital mission.

Unless, of course, someone finds a way to keep serving. This someone unexpectedly turned out to be a duo of eccentric billionaires.

The first is Jared Isaacman – a tycoon in the electronic payment industry and currently the most vicious space tourist. The second is Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, which has revolutionized space transportation.

The gentlemen know each other because Isaacman is a SpaceX client. A year ago, the billionaire took a three-day orbital cruise aboard the manned Dragon capsule, which was built by Muska and which is usually used to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Isaacman has an appetite for more, though, and has purchased a further three flights from SpaceX. During one of them, he could, by the way, lean over the Hubble telescope.

The observatory was originally located at an altitude of 600 km; now it is approx. 70 km lower. The laws of physics are inexorable – anything in orbit has to fall to Earth sometime (technically satellites are in a constant decline anyway, but very, very slowly). The easiest way to prevent this from happening is through motors. For example, the International Space Station fires up from time to time, which allows it to stay at an altitude of about 400 km.

However, the telescope has no motors, so it cannot change its height by itself. Given the current rate of orbital altitude loss, NASA predicts it is 50 percent. the chance that the observatory would fall to Earth by 2037. The previous plan was that Hubble would be safely “deorbit” – that is, brought to Earth in a controlled manner.

One might ask: why didn’t NASA equip the telescope with motors? The answer is very prosaic: probably none of the Hubble designers in the 1980s suspected that the device would still be usable after 30 years of service. From the point of view of the ergonomics of the mission – how much the telescope weighs and how much has to be carried into orbit – it was better to invest in the remaining elements, saving on motors.

However, the veteran surprised everyone with his vitality, so it makes sense to save him. Interestingly, NASA has not had such plans so far. The reasons are probably budgetary – the Agency has to carefully turn every dollar. She just got herself one space telescope – observatory James Webb – another one is on the way, named after astronomer Nancy Roman.

This is where space enthusiasts come in with a deep wallet. NASA representatives assured that the Agency would not spend a penny on a possible rescue mission (and if anything, not much).

Given that SpaceX is the conversation partner, the mission would likely involve the use of a Dragon Manned Capsule. The vehicle would have to somehow dock to the telescope in order to use its engines and provide the observatory with that 70-kilometer kick. There is also a short space walk, during which the astronauts would replace some parts of the telescope.

However, there is no question of major improvements, similar to those that NASA made to the observatory in the 1990s (one of them was necessary if the telescope was to function properly at all) and the first decade of this century, however, is out of the question. At that time, the Americans had a fleet of shuttles – larger and more capacious vehicles, and also better adapted to the long-term stay of people in space. For comparison, Dragon is rather a space bus, although it can be used for several-day trips (note: the toilet in the capsule sometimes breaks down).

Jared Isaacman.  Does he dream of becoming the savior of an aging telescope?Jared Isaacman. Does he dream of becoming the savior of an aging telescope? – SpaceX / flickr

Kick and repair could be part of the Polaris mission – a series of three private space flights that Isaacman plans to perform with SpaceX equipment. Hence his involvement in the project – after all, as a space tourist, he would bear a significant part of the costs himself.

Exactly what this mission would look like is unknown, as NASA announced on Thursday that six months of concept work with private sector partners was to begin. Interestingly, they are open-ended. In other words, although the initiators are Issacman and SpaceX, everyone can contribute with ideas (and money!).

There are two very important conclusions from the Thursday conference. First, there is a chance that Hubble will continue its operations. This is very important because it is the only space observatory that views the Universe as we do – that is, in the visible light band. Both Webb and the future Nancy Roman are devices that look at the cosmos through the prism of infrared.

Secondly: even if the mission does not finally take place – if only for security reasons – and Hubble does not get a kick, the representatives of the so-called the new space industry. The fact that NASA is considering carrying out such a mission with companies that did not exist 20 years ago says something about the evolution of the entire sector.

Of course, private entities have always been present in space exploration – after all, NASA itself did not build all these rockets, shuttles, probes, space telescopes etc. history – only two guys who like to fly into space (one literally).

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