The Hubble Space Telescope is sinking! Two startups want to save it for free
But it's up to NASA to approve a rescue mission. Cue Aerosmith
Momentus and Astroscale, two startups specializing in space infrastructure and orbital debris, want to collaborate and help boost NASA's aging Hubble Space Telescope into a safe orbit.
Hubble has far exceeded its original mission and expected run time, thanks to five space shuttle missions that sent astronauts to repair its instruments between 1993 and 2009.
NASA reckons there's more life in Hubble yet – but only if its altitude can be pushed higher to stop it falling and reentering Earth's atmosphere in the mid 2030s. Atmospheric drag has been slowly degrading the satellite's orbit, and it is expected to drop to 500 kilometers above Earth by about 2025.
In a bid to save the sinking telescope, NASA issued a Request for Information (RFI) in December to explore potential solutions from commercial vendors. NASA's not going to spend any money on this, but organizations willing to do the job would receive "technical information and technical consultation," from NASA Goddard.
Now Momentus and Astroscale have announced they're willing to collaborate on a potential future servicing mission to shift the Hubble Space Telescope into a safer orbit and remove any debris that could collide with the probe.
"The Hubble's need for a reboost should be an important wake-up call as to why the space industry needs dynamic and responsive in-space infrastructure, and in this case, to extend opportunities to explore our universe," said Ron Lopez, president and managing director of Astroscale US, in a statement.
"The proliferation of in-space servicing and assembly allows us to reimagine how our investments are managed in space; it is the foundation on which the new space age is being built. What we've proposed to NASA are options – options that were not available during the five previous crewed servicing missions and that leverage the best of in-space servicing to achieve mission objectives and advance US leadership in space."
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Instead of sending astronauts the potential fixers want to launch an orbital service vehicle – built by Momentus and containing components from Astroscale – that can rendezvous with and capture spacecraft. The vehicle would then fire its thrusters and boost Hubble to an orbit 50 kilometers higher, and then clear any litter found in its new environment.
"Leveraging Momentus's flight heritage with three orbital service vehicles on-orbit today and Astroscale's expertise in RPOD (rendezvous, proximity operations and docking), we found our product suites to be synergistic in support of a major NASA mission," said John Rood, Momentus CEO. "Even at 33, Hubble is fully capable of continuing its mission; where it is aging is in its orbital stability."
It's not known what other companies, if any, also responded to NASA's RFI, since the space agency promised to keep the information confidential. Last year, NASA agreed to study the technical feasibility of boosting Hubble with SpaceX's Dragon capsule, and began collecting data.
Neither that study nor the RFI guarantee that NASA will carry out a Hubble servicing mission, however. The space agency may well decide that, with newer tech in place and future exploration planned, Hubble's days are coming to an end. ®