Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) announced on Monday that it will be giving two telescopes as big as the Hubble Space Telescope to NASA.
The 7.9-feet mirror telescopes have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.
If used as originally intended, NASA official Michael Moore told the Washington Post that the telescopes could be aimed at Earth and “spot a dime sitting on top of the Washington Monument.” However, NASA has no intentions of spying on Earth, so instead they will be aiming the telescopes towards space.
The new telescopes will give NASA an opportunity to kick-start some plans that were initially cut because of budget restraints, such as one mission to study dark energy using a powerful telescope.
The two new telescopes would be ready to go into space once NASA adds cameras, spectrographs and other instruments that a space telescope needs.
“The hardware is a significant cost item and it´s a significant schedule item. The thing that takes the longest to build is the telescope,” Spergel told the Post.
The James Webb telescope is planned to replace Hubble, but is not slated to go into space until 2018.
NASA will need a team of mission scientists, engineers and technicians before getting the NRO telescopes into orbit, which would require more money. NASA will also have to pay for the telescopes to be launched into space.
The NRO telescopes’ short length means its camera would have the wild field view necessary to investigate large areas of the sky for supernova. The telescopes’ diameter is twice as big as the nixed $1.5 billion Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope that was being built to study dark energy, giving it four times the light-gathering power.
“When someone hands you a hand-me-down like that you have to be excited,” Adam Riess, one of the three dark energy Nobelists, told the New York Times. “They´re not sitting around at Wal-Mart.”
However, a cost analysis for what the budget would be to get these telescopes into orbit has not been done, so it is yet to be seen as to whether they will be used in the near future.
Neither of the telescopes are likely to see low-orbit Earth until 2020 at the earliest.