NASA May Let Billionaire Astronaut and SpaceX Lift Hubble Telescope
After his successful mission, called Inspiration4, to orbit last year, Mr. Isaacman announced Polaris, a follow-up collaboration with SpaceX that would make a series of flights to orbit to perform various technology demonstrations. The first mission, Polaris Dawn, in which Mr. Isaacman said would launch toward the end of the first quarter of next year, is aiming to reach the highest altitude of any astronaut mission since the Apollo moon landings and to include the first private spacewalk.
A future Polaris mission, he said, could rendezvous with Hubble, nudge it higher up and perhaps perform other repairs and upgrades to the space telescope, which has experienced periodic outages because of technical glitches.
The cargo bay of a space shuttle was large enough to hold Hubble, which at 43.5 feet long and 14 feet wide is roughly the size of a school bus. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, including the trunk portion that is jettisoned before the crew capsule returns to Earth, is smaller than Hubble, about 27 feet tall and 13 feet in diameter.
During the last shuttle mission to Hubble, astronauts installed a docking ring that was to help NASA take Hubble out of orbit when it needed to. The Crew Dragon might be able to link to the ring in order to raise the observatory’s orbit.
The next steps depend on what comes out of the feasibility study.
“We’re going to be looking at Dragon capabilities and how they would need to be modified in order to safely rendezvous and dock with Hubble,” Ms. Jensen said. “Details of exactly how physically that’s done and how we also safely do that from a trajectory point of view, that’s all to be worked out.”
Dr. Zurbuchen said that was worth pursuing. Some NASA experts will put in some time to work with SpaceX, but NASA is not paying SpaceX any money to explore the idea.
“We’re working on crazy ideas all the time,” Dr. Zurbuchen said. “Frankly, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”