NASA, SpaceX to study pushing Hubble telescope into higher orbit

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NASA officials have signed a Space Act Agreement with SpaceX to investigate the benefits and risks of having a private mission service the nearly 33-year-old Hubble Space Telescope, pushing the space agency into a higher orbit to extend its life. he announced on Thursday.

“Hubble is incredibly successful. … It’s doing great science as we speak,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said at a news conference.

But SpaceX approached the space agency with the idea a few months ago, and the NASA team now plans to evaluate whether a private mission could help “boost” and maintain the telescope.

Zurbuchen added that it is not yet certain whether such a mission can be carried out, and the purpose of the agreement is only to study the technical feasibility of the idea.

Jessica Jensen, SpaceX’s vice president of customer operations and integration, said the privately held aerospace company “has extensive experience docking (spacecraft) with the International Space Station.”

SpaceX wants to use that knowledge as a baseline and see if it’s possible to perform a similar docking maneuver with the Hubble telescope, Jensen said.

It could be done “at no cost to the government,” according to a NASA news release.

Launched in 1990, the space observatory has had several service missions during NASA’s space shuttle era, with its last mission in 2009. But the space agency retired the space shuttle in 2011, and no spacecraft has returned.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft missions have already taken over much of the work done by the space shuttle program, including transporting astronauts to and from the ISS.