Save soldier Hubble for scientists around the world

There are two years left to save the soldier Hubble. Thirty-two springs after launch, the emblematic space telescope orbits 600 kilometers from Earth, orbiting only “about 540 km,” according to NASA. At this rate, it may re-enter the atmosphere and therefore disintegrate around 2037. If a rescue mission arrives to gently dock this famous bus-sized instrument and fails to lift its orbit. This is the limit of 500 km, until 2025 and still, according to the American Space Agency, the “encounter” will be too thin.

And this grand space yo-yo operation has been little more than speculation since Christmas Eve. On December 22, NASA officially issued a “call for ideas” to find a private partner that could achieve this technical feat, first for Hubble, but more generally for other “aging” satellites whose orbits we need to boost to extend their scientific activities. life

For fame and posterity

The name of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company, was already floating around before the call with the Crew Dragon shuttles. Other candidates who wish to report should do so by January 24, the last date for submission of applications. They have to do it for fame too. The challenge stipulates that the mission, its technological development and the risks of failure will be the responsibility of the end operator.

“From a communications point of view, it’s a huge coup to be the company that relaunched the Hubble that everyone knows about. Especially when you’ve already sent a Tesla into space. It is also a means to win over the scientific community”, – analyzes Olivier Berné, CNRS astrophysicist year at the Toulouse research institute for astrophysics and planetology (Irap).

Because he’s still valuable despite James Webb

Astronomical researchers have no shadow of hesitation. Even if the new James Webb telescope, which sees the other star of interstellar vision, “more”, is already operational, Hubble’s life should also be extended. “This is very, very good news,” says Thierry Contini, another European astrophysicist. “Because Hubble’s observations in the visible range are still widely used, and they complement those of James Webb, who could see in the infrared or ultraviolet.” The scientist also acknowledges the “sentimental” attachment he began with Hubble. Olivier Berné adds: “It continues to provide extremely valuable information to many researchers. James Webb is often presented, somewhat incorrectly, as the successor to Hubble. This is true historically, but not scientifically. Because they they know how to do different things.”

By the way, James Webb, who travels in a much farther orbit than his eldest son, has a nominal life of five years. The most optimists increase this hope to four, but it will be very difficult to interfere with it when it no longer has fuel, for example, several times in Hubble, for example, in 2009, thanks to the crew of one of the ships, the last American shuttle Atlantis. The Hubble is not in the “disposable” realm, it’s sustainable.

It opened to dizzying views

Finally, if there was one last reason to save Hubble, it would be for the service rendered. “It’s a truly remarkable instrument. If there’s one space mission that everyone knows about, it’s the Apollo missions,” explains Olivier Berné. Thierry Contini recalls: “With the first deep fields in the direction of distant galaxies, it allowed us to go back in space time and to make great progress in observational astronomy.” “Thanks to it, we know that the universe is filled with billions and billions of galaxies at all distances and at all times; there are many other parallel worlds, in the sense that there are many other galaxies similar to ours, containing billions of stars similar to our Sun. It surprises you, “enthuses his colleague.

Suffice it to say, if NASA takes this incredible “ascension” to Hubble’s orbit, it will have supporters in white coats in labs around the world. They will hold their breath more than this complex robot maneuver. Indeed, first it is necessary to gently approach the space telescope so that it is not damaged, and then give it the necessary propulsion to find more favorable skies.

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