Behind The Black Postings By Robert Zimmerman

Big news: The military has given NASA two Cold War era spy space telescopes with mirrors comparable to Hubble’s.

They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.

Since astronomers have over the past dozen years been remarkably uninterested in launching a replacement for Hubble, they now find themselves in a situation where they might have no optical capabilities at all in space. Hubble is slowing dying from age, and NASA doesn’t have the money to build a new optical space telescope, especially since with any new space telescope proposal the astronomical community has had the annoying habit of demanding more sophistication than NASA can afford.

This announcement however might just save astronomy from becoming blind. Because these spy telescopes are already half built, it will be difficult to add too many bells and whistles. Hire a launch rocket, build the cameras and spectrographs based on the instruments already on Hubble, and get the things in orbit quickly.

6 Comments
  1. Steve C says:

    This sounds like a job for Falcon Heavy.

    Actually, the mirrors will be better than Hubble. Hubble needed glasses.

  2. wodun says:

    This is pretty cool. Hopefully NASA can capitalize on this.

  3. Patrick says:

    I was always under the impression that a space telescope and a spy telescope were two distinctly different things.
    At least in the way the lenses are shaped/cut. Basically their focal length.

    I have a telescope that will NEVER focus at under 150 feet but will focus out to infinity.
    The Hubble is the same, can’t focus close but can focus way out there.
    Spy telescopes are pretty much the opposite They can focus close, like 100 miles close, really really well but have no capability to focus at greater distances.

    Maybe these are different though.

  4. NASA will find a way to screw this up.

    • Hi David,

      Actually, I have some faith in the astronomy and science work that NASA does. In this case they are starting out right, by asking for proposals from everyone. This will generate competition, and thus the best proposals. This is also how the science program at NASA has been run, quite successfully, since the late 1990s. And the result has been some damn good science missions, both in the planetary program and in the astronomy program, with few failures.

      The real problem here is a lack of funds. There isn’t enough cash to put either of these telescopes into orbit, which is where they could do their best work. And we both know, the lack of cash is not NASA’s fault.

    • One more thing. There might be enough cash to put one of these telescopes into orbit, if our Congress would consider taking my advice.

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