NASA, SpaceX and Jared Isaacman Study Hubble Telescope Extension

This 1990 photograph shows the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope from the Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-31 mission.

Source: NASA

SpaceX and billionaire astronaut Jared Isaacman are teaming up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study whether a private mission could extend the life of the famed Hubble Telescope.

NASA has signed an agreement with by Elon Musk and the Polaris program, led by Isaacman, to investigate the possibility of using a SpaceX spacecraft to dock with the telescope and alter its orbit in an effort to extend its lifespan, the parties announced Thursday.

NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen said on a press call that SpaceX approached NASA with the idea “a few months ago.”

“Hubble is having incredible success – it’s healthy, it’s doing great science as we speak,” Zurbuchen said.

NASA expects the Hubble Telescope to be retired by the end of this decade due to its current decline in orbit. The spacecraft has three gyroscopes that stabilize it, according to the agency. If Hubble were moved to a higher altitude, closer to where it began its stay in space, NASA estimates the telescope could operate for another 15 to 20 years.

“It is entirely appropriate for us to review this because of the tremendous value this research asset has for us as well as others,” Zurbuchen said.

Zurbuchen said the agreement between NASA and SpaceX does not involve any “transfer of funds” and that “SpaceX is financing its own participation”.

The study will last six months as SpaceX examines how its Crew Dragon capsule might dock with the telescope and what modifications, if any, would be needed, while NASA collects technical data from Hubble.

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Isaacman, founder of a payment company Shift4, flew on the first private SpaceX flight into orbit last year and purchased three more flights from by Elon Musk company – nicknamed Polaris.

While the study doesn’t guarantee a mission to Hubble, Isaacman said the potential flight “would definitely fit within the parameters we’ve established for the Polaris program.”

“[Hubble is] probably one of the greatest exploration assets of all time,” Isaacman said, adding that “this study has broad applicability.”

NASA’s Hubble launched over 30 years ago and remains in operation, having helped astronomers make many discoveries over the decades. Notably, NASA flew five astronaut missions to repair and replace parts on the complex spacecraft, using the agency’s own space shuttle vehicles.

The Polaris Dawn mission crew, left to right: Medic Anna Menon, Pilot Scott Poteet, Commander Jared Isaacman, and Mission Specialist Sarah Gillis.

Polaris/John Kraus Program

The first mission of Isaacman’s program, called Polaris Dawn, is scheduled for March, with Isaacman again leading a crew of four into orbit in a Crew Dragon capsule. The culmination of the program is expected to be the third mission, which would be the first crewed launch of SpaceX’s Starship rocket.

Isaacman previously set out three goals for the Polaris Dawn mission: reach the highest orbit around Earth that humans have ever flown, perform a spacewalk outside the Dragon spacecraft, and use Starlink internet satellites to communicate.

Currently, the Polaris Dawn crew is training for launch, with CNBC recently joined Isaacman to find out how his team uses fighter jets of his personal fleet to prepare for space flight.

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