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Billionaire wants to save space telescope – NASA is skeptical

Billionaire wants to save space telescope – NASA is skeptical

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It's like a “tin can” in space: The Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting the Earth since 1990 at an altitude of about 550 kilometers. (Archive photo) © IMAGO/NASA

The Hubble Telescope has a limited lifespan, but a billionaire plans to save it. NASA is skeptical – looking to the past.

Email Washington, DC – Perhaps no other instrument has shaped the picture of the universe as much as the Hubble Space Telescope. Since 1990, it has provided countless images and scientific data that have proven, among other things, that the universe is expanding. But Hubble's lifespan is limited. It was originally exposed at an altitude of about 550 kilometers above the Earth's surface, but continued to sink due to atmospheric friction. Experts expect a collapse in the 2030s.

The problem: Since the end of the “space shuttles” in the summer of 2011, there is no longer any way to repair “Hubble” or increase its path. The space telescope frequently encounters technical problems, but so far it has always been able to operate it from Earth. However, one thing is clear: Hubble won't last forever.

A billionaire wants to save NASA's Hubble telescope with a SpaceX capsule

In December 2022, NASA announced that the private space company SpaceX was conducting a study to investigate ways to increase the telescope's flight height. It later emerged that billionaire Jared Isaacman was planning to use his “Polaris Dawn” space program to save the Hubble Telescope. Isaacman, who conducted a multi-day space mission aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon space capsule in 2021 with three other non-professionals, has purchased additional spacewalks from SpaceX and is planning his first private spacewalk as part of the Polaris Dawn program.

Despite the potential cost savings for NASA, the space agency appears skeptical of the proposal. This starts Report from the American radio station NPR Close, which quotes internal NASA emails. In particular, those responsible for this mission seem to be concerned about the risks of spacewalking, which has never been carried out from a Crew Dragon capsule.

Isaacman wants to take a risk with a “spacewalk” — and NASA should take advantage of that

However, Isaacman stressed at an event marking the planned “spacewalk”: “We will definitely take that risk.” His group will certainly continue private spacewalks — and NASA should take advantage of that. “I would say that makes more than sense. It's pretty obvious to do,” Isaacman said.

On X (Formerly Twitter), Isaacman explained in January that time is of the essence: “With Hubble's orbit shrinking, there is only a limited amount of time to plan, train, and fly the mission. I'm a little concerned that time is running out in this game.” He added: “In terms of the crew, we will bring together the people who will give the mission the best chance of success. I'm just concerned that at this rate there may not be a Hubble to save it.”

NASA has concerns about the private Hubble rescue operation

However, NASA's fears are not unfounded – the space organization knows what it means for astronauts to die on the job. The tragic accidents of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles are deeply embedded in the agency's DNA. One NASA study It also shows that not everything always goes smoothly, even during a spacewalk. According to the study, 22% of spacewalks between 1965 and 2019 witnessed “major accidents” or “near misses.”

NASA astronauts repaired the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time in 2009. (File photo)
NASA astronauts repaired the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time in 2009. (File photo) © imago/Nasa

There is also a risk that the Hubble Telescope will be damaged during the mission – if the mission fails, NASA could lose many years of its many Hubble images and data. Two startups have also suggested that NASA salvage the Hubble Space Telescope. There is no decision from the space organization yet. (unpaid bill)

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