NASA Looks to Re-Boost Satellite Orbits with Hubble Serving as a Model

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Moving Hubble into a higher orbit will serve as an example of what the agency is looking to do for satellites in the future. 

NASA is searching for ways to relocate satellites currently in orbit, as the agency is facing aging equipment that needs to be serviced or moved to a different orbit. The agency wants to hear ideas for first testing the feasibility on the Hubble Space Telescope, though it currently doesn’t have any plans to move the telescope before its end of life.

While NASA and SpaceX signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement in September to study the possibility of boosting the Hubble Telescope into a higher orbit with SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, NASA is looking for information on additional commercial capabilities to provide in-space services. 

NASA is examining what it would take to move the 32-year-old Hubble into a more stable orbit, which could help extend its lifespan. The telescope is orbiting approximately 335 miles above Earth and is “predicted to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere in the mid 2030s unless it is reboosted to a higher orbit before that timeframe.” 

According to NASA, “while Hubble and Dragon will serve as test models for this study, portions of the mission concept may be applicable to other spacecraft, particularly those in near-Earth orbit like Hubble.”

The agency filed a request for information on Thursday seeking more commercial capabilities available to re-boost a satellite in orbit. Hubble would serve as a demonstration for this capability in the next few years. 

Goddard Space Flight Center will provide technical information and consultation to partners, who must provide all other resources, such as a launch vehicle and spacecraft, at no cost to NASA, according to the RFI.  

NASA noted that it does not currently have plans to conduct or fund a dedicated mission to service Hubble and that the telescope will, under current plans, safely be deorbited and disposed of at the end of its lifespan. 

Hubble’s successor, the James Webb telescope was launched late last year; it released its first images over the summer. 

Responses to NASA’s contracting officer are due via email by Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.