The iconic Hubble Space Telescope hasn’t been serviced since before the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. Hubble has held up well but won’t last forever.
NASA, SpaceX, and Jared Isaacman — a businessman-turned-astronaut who is best known for commanding the Inspiration4 mission — are discussing a feasibility study to use the Crew Dragon to boost the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher and more stable orbit. The Crew Dragon could also perform some much-needed servicing.
NASA said that the mission is completely theoretical at this point and the study will give it a better idea of possible uses for the Crew Dragon besides ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station. It isn’t paying anything for the study.
The Hubble Space Telescope launched in 1990. The Space Shuttle’s first maintenance mission to the space telescope installed the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) instrument, which corrected the “nearsighted” problem caused by a faulty mirror. The last servicing mission in May 2009 installed new instruments and components designed to extend the Hubble Space Telescope’s life.
NASA plans to deorbit the Hubble Space Telescope when it reaches the end of its useful lifespan but may prefer to extend its lifespan at some point in the future. The study will use existing models of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Crew Dragon to test the feasibility of rendezvousing and docking with the space telescope and boosting it to a higher orbit.
“As our fleet grows, we want to explore a wide range of opportunities to support the most robust, superlative science missions possible,” said Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen.
Jessica Jensen, vice president of Customer Operations & Integration at SpaceX, seemed enthusiastic at the prospect of servicing the Hubble Space Telescope: “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.”
NASA’s statement on the study indicated that the study is part of a partnership with the Polaris Program, a three-mission program that will include the first EVA conducted by a private crew if everything goes as planned. The Polaris Program will also conduct valuable scientific research, including a test of the effects of spaceflight on astronauts’ vision.
The first mission, Polaris Dawn, will fly a Crew Dragon to the highest altitude that it has ever reached and test Starlink’s laser communications in space. The third Polaris Program flight will hopefully be on a Starship spacecraft.
Jared Isaacman is organizing the Polaris Program and plans to command the Polaris Dawn mission. Polaris Program’s website seems to indicate that he is continuing the fundraising efforts for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that he started with Inspiration4. The Polaris Program supports St. Jude’s efforts to expand its operations to treat children with cancer worldwide.