The Hubble Space Telescope is now over 30 years old, first launched in 1990. The venerable telescope continues to produce valuable scientific data and beautiful images of space, but it won’t last forever, as sooner or later its orbit will decay which would cause the telescope to break apart in Earth’s atmosphere. But Hubble could keep operating for longer if its orbit were to be raised — a complex but doable operation that NASA is now considering.
NASA is inviting private companies to submit their proposals for boosting the telescope, which would work as a demonstration of how to perform similar operations on satellites.
An initial version of this plan saw discussions between SpaceX and NASA about boosting Hubble at no cost to the government. This involved a feasibility study into whether SpaceX’s Polaris program could be used for a Hubble-boosting mission. This study is non-exclusive and is still ongoing, meaning it could involve other companies as well as SpaceX. Now NASA has released a request for companies to share further ideas for how they would boost satellites and potentially use Hubble as a demonstration.
“This study is an exciting example of the innovative approaches NASA is exploring through private-public partnerships,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, in a statement. “As our fleet grows, we want to explore a wide range of opportunities to support the most robust, superlative science missions possible.”
SpaceX’s Polaris Program is its private human spaceflight program, organized by commercial astronaut Jared Isaacman. Isaacman was part of the Inspiration4 mission which was the first mission to space with an all-civilian crew. The Polaris Program also has plans for further private flights using the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Starship vehicles.
“SpaceX and the Polaris Program want to expand the boundaries of current technology and explore how commercial partnerships can creatively solve challenging, complex problems,” said Jessica Jensen, vice president of Customer Operations & Integration at SpaceX. “Missions such as servicing Hubble would help us expand space capabilities to ultimately help all of us achieve our goals of becoming a space-faring, multiplanetary civilization.”