SpaceX is exploring the possibility of achieving Hubble through a new service mission to raise its orbit and extend its lifetime. This was announced at the conference by the leaders of NASA, SpaceX and the Hubble project.
- Thomas Zurbuchen, Administrator, Scientific Department, NASA. Kathy Luders, Operational Mission Administrator, NASA. Jessica Jensen, Vice-President for Client Management and Integration, SpaceX. Jared Isaacman, astronaut and Mission Commander, Polaris Dawn. Patrick Krause, Manager, Hubble Space Telescope, NASA Goddard Space Mission Centre.
Ilona Maska has offered NASA a feasibility study, so it is not a mission announcement or a programme; the study is fully funded by SpaceX and is not exclusive.
On 22 September, SpaceX and NASA signed the Space Act Agreement to begin work on the possibility of achieving Hubble through a commercial mission.
One possibility is that one of Jared Isaacman's commercial missions will perform this service operation, and the entrepreneur of the Inspiration4 mission will return to space on the Dragon capsule in early 2023 with the Polaris Dawn mission. The second Polaris flight, again with Dragon, is scheduled for 2024.
Feasibility study only
Thomas Zurbuchen said that Hubble was in good health, and this was proven by successful DART observations of both Hubbles and James Webb, and Zurbuchen also said that Hubble is more useful than ever, precisely because it is a complement to James Webb.
At present, Hubble is orbiting at a height of 540 km compared to the original 610 km. Slowly, the telescope actually deorbits because of atmospheric friction. Patrick Crows reported that, due to its reduced orbit, Hubble could become unusable in about 15 years.
This mission, even if it does not take place, opens up entirely new opportunities for commercial space and Dragon capsules in particular. By proving that such a mission is possible, Dragon's capsule will be able to serve much larger missions in the future. For example, Thomas Zurbuchen mentioned the Changra-X telescope as another possible destination for missions of this type.