NASA’s venerable Hubble Space Telescope – still carrying out sightseeing observations thanks to several servicing missions.
Image credit: NASA

 

NASA has been on the lookout for a lift service – one that would place the Hubble Space Telescope into a higher, longer-lived orbit.

The revered space observatory is predicted to reach 310 miles (500 kilometers) in approximately 2025. At that point, the space agency notes, there is a risk that rendezvous with Hubble would be more difficult.

Bottom line: Unless the space scope is reboosted to a higher orbit before that time, the large, Earth-circling eye on the Universe is predicted to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere in the mid 2030’s.

Reboost request

Enter a new collaboration between the commercial space groups, Momentus and Astroscale, responding to a NASA Hubble reboost request for information.

Image credit: NASA

The proposed solution by the private space groups includes safe relocation of Hubble and removal of nearby threatening debris from the telescope’s new orbit. Reboost would extend the life of the iconic 33-year-old, billion-dollar space telescope, according to a Momentus statement.

Orbital stability

“Leveraging Momentus’ 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 Chief Executive Officer.

“Even at 33, Hubble is fully capable of continuing its mission; where it is aging is in its orbital stability,” Rood added, pointing to the collaboration as a cost-effective way to continue operating Hubble.

Momentus Vigoride Orbital Service Vehicle (OSV) undergoes vibration testing.
Image credit: Momentus

Saving Hubble scenario

The proposed mission concept makes use of a Momentus Vigoride Orbital Service Vehicle (OSV), rocketed into low-Earth orbit on a small launch vehicle.

Once on orbit, Astroscale’s RPOD technology built into the OSV would be used to safely rendezvous, approach and then complete a robotic capture of the telescope.

Once mated, the OSV would perform a series of maneuvers to raise the Hubble altitude by over 30 miles (50 kilometers).

Lastly, according to the Momentus statement, removal of surrounding and threatening space debris in Hubble’s new orbit would also use the Vigoride and Astroscale’s RPOD capabilities, a prioritized task after the completion of the primary reboost mission.

Wake-up call

“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 U.S. in a statement.

Image credit: Astroscale

“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,” Lopez added. “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 U.S. leadership in space.”

Polaris program

Late last year, NASA and SpaceX signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement to study the feasibility of a SpaceX and Polaris Program idea to boost the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit with a Dragon spacecraft – at no cost to the government.

The Polaris Program is a human spaceflight program organized by Jared Isaacman, an entrepreneur, who commanded the first all-civilian Inspiration4 spaceflight in September 2021. Subsequently, he purchased flights from SpaceX in order to create the Polaris Program.

At the time of that NASA/SpaceX signing, NASA underscored that there is no formal go-ahead on such an uplifting idea for Hubble, but is exploring the prospect of commercial possibilities.

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