NASA is exploring the use of a private spacecraft to take the Hubble Space Telescope to new heights, giving the influential space observatory new life.
On Dec. 22, the space agency issued a request for information regarding a non-exclusive SpaceX study earlier this year that suggested how the Hubble Space Telescope could be “rebooted” into a higher orbit.
NASA’s request for information, which you can read here, comes as it continues to consider the future of the space telescope and will remain open until January. 24, 2023.
Related: The best images of the Hubble Space Telescope of all time
Since the start of Hubble’s work in 1990, the space telescope’s orbit at 335 miles (540 kilometers) above the Earth has been decreasing. Putting it into a higher, more stable orbit could add years to Hubble’s lifespan, delaying when NASA has to de-orbit or scrap the telescope.
During five shuttle missions to the Hubble service, NASA used the shuttle to reboot the telescope. The last shuttle service mission to Hubble was in 2009. NASA decommissioned its shuttle fleet in 2011.
The idea to lift Hubble into a higher orbit with the Dragon spacecraft at no cost to the government was first developed between SpaceX and the Polaris program, a private space mission program using SpaceX Dragon and Starship spacecraft funded by billionaire Jared Isaakman. Then in September 2022, an unfunded agreement was signed between SpaceX and NASA to explore the feasibility of restarting Hubble.
The SpaceX study was designed to help NASA, which does not currently plan to operate or fund a new Hubble servicing mission, determine the commercial feasibility of such a mission. The SpaceX study also aimed to identify technical problems with such service.
The fact that the study is not exclusive means that other companies can offer their own Hubble maintenance studies based on different rockets or spacecraft.
These studies will collect data from Hubble itself and from the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to assess the feasibility of a safe rendezvous and docking with the space telescope before launching it into a higher stable orbit. The study is expected to last about 6 months.
“This study is an exciting example of the innovative approaches that NASA is exploring through public-private partnerships,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. (will open in a new tab) “As our fleet grows, we want to explore a wide range of options to support the most reliable and superior science missions.”
The Hubble Reboot Operation will demonstrate how old satellites and spacecraft can extend their lifespan, especially in Earth orbits like the space telescope.
“SpaceX and the Polaris program want to push the boundaries of today’s technology and explore how commercial partnerships can creatively solve complex complex problems,” said Jessica Jensen, vice president of customer experience and integration at SpaceX. “Missions like the Hubble service will help us expand space capabilities to ultimately help us all reach our goals of becoming a space-based multi-planetary civilization.”
Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.