The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, has provided a wellspring of information about our universe over the last 27 years. Some of those discoveries required five upgrades to the system.
And now, according to a Wall Street Journal report, there could be a sixth. According to the report, the servicing would provide an “insurance policy” in case the James Webb Space Telescope, which will perch itself far from low-Earth orbit (and even beyond the Moon) at a stable point called L2.
With the space shuttle program ending in 2011, there isn’t a vehicle to complete the mission. Yet. But Sierra Nevada, a private spaceflight company, has worked for years on a miniature space shuttle called the Dream Chaser, based on older designs generated in the early days of NASA. Right now, the craft is only cleared for automated flights and may resupply the ISS as soon as 2019. The project would require a human-piloted variant relying on infrastructure that already exists in the ship’s design.
According to the WSJ report, the possibility is currently in the (very) preliminary stages. It would represent a public-private venture that would drive down federal government costs by teaming up with private spaceflight companies, a model that is expected to be utilized in the administration in general.
Along with the Webb telescope, NASA has two telescopes based on modified versions of the Hubble design donated by the National Reconnaissance Office. One such mission, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, will be utilized as an exoplanet and dark matter hunter to be launched in the mid-2020s. Plans for the other telescope have not yet been announced.