back to article The Hubble Space Telescope is sinking! Two startups want to save it for free

Momentus and Astroscale, two startups specializing in space infrastructure and orbital debris, want to collaborate and help boost NASA's aging Hubble Space Telescope into a safe orbit. Hubble has far exceeded its original mission and expected run time, thanks to five space shuttle missions that sent astronauts to repair its …

  1. Dimmer Bronze badge

    Be nice if we could us some of the space junk we want to de-orbit as mass to push something higher.

    Be like playing a game of Tetris. Yep, stick an AI on it.

  2. Hurn


    " to remove local debris at risk of colliding with the Hubble Space Telescope, and reboost it into a safe orbit."

    What's the point of clearing where it currently is, if you're about to move it?

    1. Clear the path to the "safe orbit" (which, by definition, should already be clear, or else it wouldn't be safe).

    2. Boost Hubble to the safe orbit.

    1. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: Huh?

      To advertise their space-junk clearing startup. What? Did you think this was for science?

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Other way around

      They want to boost the telescope and clear from its new orbit any debris that might be there. Well, OK, what the press release says exactly is:

      "Removal of surrounding and threatening space debris in Hubble’s new orbit using the Vigoride and Astroscale’s RPOD capabilities will be prioritized after the completion of the primary reboost mission."

      You could read "will be prioritized" as "will now happen" or as "will do more of what already was happening". A basic reading of it leans toward a reboost then debris clean up of the new orbit, but you could read it as doing some clean up pre-boost and then much more cleanup after boost. We kept the sentence in our article open ended; I've made it more declarative.

      Don't forget to email BTW if you think you've spotted something wrong. As much as folks want to discuss it here, I'd like to make articles clear and correct, and we check that inbox all the time.


  3. MJB7

    Who's going to pay for this?

    "NASA is not going to spend any money on this" - I know space launches are getting cheaper, but they are still not cheap.

    I don't think anyone is going to pay for a launch "for the exposure".

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Who's going to pay for this?

      Have you seen what companies are willing to pay for a 1 minute Ad at the Super Bowl?

      OK this is not in that league (he he), but a servicing mission of Hubble would be a massive publicity generator for the firms involved. They may not cover 100% of costs doing this, but they could certainly cover a lot, and come out with a stack more publicity than any amount of advertising here on Earth...

      1. Aladdin Sane

        Re: Who's going to pay for this?

        Sell off the naming rights: "The Miller Light Hubble. The only instrument powerful enough to detect the alcohol in our beer."

        1. Marty McFly Silver badge

          Re: Who's going to pay for this?

          That is a good idea. Bud Light needs a new customer market, having efficiently alienated their core customer base while simultaneously failing to expand in to new markets. Might as well try marketing to space geeks.

        2. ian 22

          Re: Who's going to pay for this?

          Miller Light: Like making love in a canoe.

  4. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Feasible and potentially profitable.

    Launch an ion drive module that can attach to the socket that the Shuttle used to hold/move Hubble. Then that can be used for a low thrust move to the correct orbit and can also be used for positioning and later corrections. Avoiding damage to Hubble should be easy enough and the technology is pretty mature. Cost will probably not be that high (under 1 Billion US$) and could easily be recouped by increasing the fees charged for the use of Hubble.

    Clearing an orbit of debris is much harder. The best schemes I have seen for that involved de-orbiting the debris which means that it is all going to pass through LEO on its way down with the risk to the satellites and the ISS/Tiangong increased. However, if we don't start cleaning up soon, we are going to start losing satellites and other resources, possibly even people.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Feasible and potentially profitable.

      > increasing the fees charged for the use of Hubble

      Ladies and gentlemen, on this side the Starlink evangelists who say we don't need terrestrial telescopes anymore since we have Hubble, on this side somebody who suggests increasing Hubble's fees: Fight!

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Feasible and potentially profitable.

      "Launch an ion drive module that can attach to the socket that the Shuttle used to hold/move Hubble. ..." That sounds like an idea worth considering. Could work. Might be cheap. (by space exploration standards)

      "Clearing an orbit of debris is much harder...." No kidding I think it would require finding and disposing of every bit of debris capable of reaching 540km altitude between 28.5 degrees North latitude and 28.5 degrees South Latitude at any point in its orbit. Keep in mind that even a tiny fragment weighting ten grams or so can have a closing velocity 10 or 20 times that of a high powered rifle bullet. (That's 100 to 400 times the kinetic energy). I'm guessing that punching random holes in a telescope might not be good for it.

      Then there's the question of whether Hubble needs salvation. I don't follow these things that closely and don't have time this morning for hours of research. But my impression is that Hubble covers some wavelengths that the JWST doesn't. And there's also the hopefully small possibility that the JSWT will quit working. And there are large telescope arrays on line and under development down here on Earth that have impressive capabilities. Do they obviate any need for Hubble?

      1. Zolko Silver badge

        Re: Feasible and potentially profitable.

        Hubble covers some wavelengths that the JWST doesn't

        yes, that's UV (below λ<400nm), and apart from Hubble there is no other telescope, JWST or Earth-based, that can observe at that wavelength. So it's Hubble or nothing in the UV. Specifically (I searched for you) it's the COS spectrograph

    3. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      Re: Feasible and potentially profitable.

      "Cost will probably not be that high (under 1 Billion US$) and could easily be recouped by increasing the fees charged for the use of Hubble."

      No need: you get to continue charging standard fees for many extra years. That should cover it.

  5. Zolko Silver badge

    the next bubble

    two startups specializing in space infrastructure and orbital debris

    Funnily, I watched a documentary about the South Sea Company bubble of the 1710-th yesterday. I have a nice bridge to sell, isn't there any startup – and/or vulture capitalist – to invest in it ?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: the next bubble

      If you claimed your bridge used AI in some way, then I'm sure the cash would come flooding in.

      (No AI actually required).

  6. Mr. V. Meldrew

    Save our Hubble!

    Take to the streets! Chain yourself to a fence! We must save Hubble at all costs (or no cost). Where would be without Hubble?

  7. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    "Leveraging Momentus's 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,"

    If the service vehicle is going to be buzzword powered I think we're onto a winner here.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Hubble & JWT complement each other in that they observe different parts of the spectrum. Unless there's a Hubble replacement planned it would be unfortunate if it were allowed to fall out of the sky.

  9. rg287

    But why...?

    Whilst I have no desire to see Hubble fall out the sky, I do have to question the point of continued service missions, particularly now that various mechanical components are giving out. She's an old lady now - magnificent in her old age - but it's not just about keeping her on orbit. How easily can her solar panels be replaced? Or her reaction wheels?

    Hubble cost about a billion dollars. Each of the five servicing missions also cost >$1Bn each.

    So the question is... why keep throwing money at her instead of just launching new ones? Sure, the first service mission maybe, to get her working properly. But there was a spare mirror - we could have sent Hubble 2 up, with a different set of instruments (e.g. one of the upgrades from a service mission). That way you'd have double the observing time. Sure, Hubble 1 would still be on her old hardware, but that was still incredible, and you get double the science.

    And we didn't even need the shuttle. On paper, Hubble seems to just about squeeze into an Ariane 5 fairing (not withstanding any pointy bits that might need re-engineering, it's not like I've got the CAD drawings here to line up against), and at 11tonnes is comfortably within the 20t to LEO payload capacity. Or do whatever the NSA did with all the other Keyhole satellites.

    If we're going to drop a billion dollars on a space telescope, maybe spend it on launching a new one? One which complements or extends Hubble's ability?

    Or a pair, with laser-links for performing long-baseline-interferometry (which is hard at optical wavelengths because the accuracy to which you need to know the separation of the telescopes is proportional to the observing wavelength - which is why we don't see optical telescopes being chained together across continents - we can't measure their separation accurately enough without mechanically connecting them). In space, a free-space optical link could conceivably measure to the requisite accuracy.

    Without wishing to be wasteful, I just find it hard to reconcile the idea of spending that much money on marginal upgrades when we could launch a totally new instrument for similar money and get the benefit of additional observing time (because it's not like there has ever been a shortage of meritorious proposals queued up for HST Observing Time).

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: But why...?

      Would building and launching a Hubble 2.0 really be cost comparable with this proposal to give 1.0 a shove to keep it going?

      I'm not saying a 2.0 wouldn't be a good idea, it's just a matter of what's likely to happen.

      1. Marty McFly Silver badge

        Re: But why...?

        Seems James Webb is the 2.0 version....

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: But why...?

      > If we're going to drop a billion dollars on a space telescope, maybe spend it on launching a new one?

      Unfortunately a Hubble 2.0 wouldn't cost a billion, nowadays most likely 3-4 billion, and then there is the big issue of putting it in orbit and fixing any problems (remember, Hubble has required 5 service visits so far since its launch, it's thanks to them it's (still) working). We might potentially get a Hubble 2.0 in the right orbit, but service visits would be impossible...

      But most importantly, don't forget the Hubble project started around 1970 and it was launched around 1990, that is 20 years later... If you start working on Hubble 2.0 tomorrow, it might, potentially be operational around 2043 (or later)...

      Now some Grinch will certainly say stars aren't going anywhere, we can wait 20 years. Please tell that in person to the young astronomers just leaving college. Make sure to bring a bag to put your teeth in...

      1. rg287

        Re: But why...?

        I perhaps wasn't clear, but when I referred to Hubble 2.0, I wasn't referring to an all-new telescope design. I was referring to literally a second Hubble.

        By the time you'd done the R&D for one, built out the science software, etc, building a second one would have been relatively cheap. Bear in mind the first service mission cost $500m plus the shuttle launch. $1.5Bn would have bought you a second Hubble with change. They'd also paid Kodak for the back-up mirror at that point.

        This is not to say that the missions were all a waste of time - obviously they needed SM1 to get Hubble working properly and a couple more for station-keeping and upgrades/repairs.

        But arguably 3A & 3B (a mix of upgrades and actual service/repair) could have been consolidated into a single service-only mission focussed on failed/failing components and the 3B budget spent on Hubble 2, which would have got the upgraded science instruments. Maybe Hubble 1 would end up with a shorter lifespan, but we'd still have a (newer) telescope on orbit, and for a while you'd have two telescopes (with a diversity of instruments).

        But most importantly, don't forget the Hubble project started around 1970 and it was launched around 1990, that is 20 years later... If you start working on Hubble 2.0 tomorrow, it might, potentially be operational around 2043 (or later)...

        Maybe, maybe not. The Roman Space Telescope is looking at around a 10-year development cycle (funded in 2016, launch 2027). If one were being picky one might point out that it was first proposed in 2010 - we're discussing how long to deliver from getting the "go" with actual financing. JWST took 20 years (actual studies commissioned 1999, launch 2021) and any Hubble-a-like (i.e. single primary mirror) would be much, much less complex.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: But why...?

          > (funded in 2016, launch 2027)

          Sorry, I for one am still living in the past (in 2023), so I will only believe it happened when I reach 2027 and see it happen. Please remember the James Webb telescope was initially scheduled to launch in 2010 -- it actually launched in 2021, just 11 years later...

  10. smot

    Simples. Ask ChatGPT

    Q: How can the hubble telescope be moved into a safer orbit at minimal cost?

    A: "As an AI language model, I cannot predict the possibility of moving a telescope such as Hubble. But, here are some general ways to move a satellite or a telescope into a safer orbit:

    Use the remaining fuel to perform a controlled deorbiting: The Hubble telescope is not designed for re-entry, so it's not feasible to bring it back to Earth. Instead, the remaining fuel can be used to slowly bring it down into a lower orbit until it will eventually burn up upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

    Use gravitational forces: By using the gravitational forces of other celestial bodies such as the Moon, Earth, or even a spacecraft, the Hubble telescope can be safely moved into a new orbit without expending much fuel.

    Use a space tug: A small spacecraft or robotic vehicle, known as a space tug, can be attached to the Hubble telescope to move it to a safer orbit. The space tug can also expel propellant to slow down or speed up the telescope.

    Use aerodynamic drag: At the end of its lifetime, the Hubble telescope can be aimed at a lower altitude, the atmospheric drag, will cause the telescope to slow down and eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

    However, considering the importance and the sensitivity of the Hubble telescope, moving it into a safer orbit would require careful planning and execution to minimize any potential damage to the spacecraft and its instruments."

    There you go.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Simples. Ask ChatGPT

      LOL. Well, one has to admit you asked about a "safer" orbit, without specifying for whom and in what way it should be "safer"...

      I especially like the "gravitational forces" scenario. Just wait till Mars passes close to Earth and let it pull Hubble to a higher orbit! Voila! Jeez, why didn't anybody think of that obvious solution...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like