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NASA versus Isaacman/SpaceX on upgrading Hubble

Link here. The NPR article is a long detailed look at NASA on-going review of the proposal by billionaire astronaut Jared Isaacman and SpaceX to to do a maintenance mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The NPR spin is subtly hostile to the mission, because it would be funded privately and run entirely by private citizens, not the government. Like all modern leftist news outlets, it can only imagine the government capable of doing such things properly.

Reading between the lines, however, what I instead sense is that NASA and the scientific community is generally quite enthusiastic about this proposal, but wants to make sure it not only is done safely but does nothing to harm Hubble in any way, both completely reasonable concerns. While there appear to be some individuals who are opposed for purely political and egotistically reasons — a desire to keep control of this turf no matter what — I don’t see that faction having much influence long term.

Whether this project can go forward I think will be largely determined by the success or failure of Isaacman’s next manned flight, dubbed Polaris Dawn and scheduled for this summer. On it he will attempt the first spacewalk by a private citizen, using SpaceX’s Resilience capsule and EVA spacesuit. If that spacewalk is a success, and he can demonstrate the ability to accomplish some complex tasks during the EVA, it will certainly ease the concerns of many about a follow-up repair mission to Hubble.

If it does proceed, the goal appears to be to attach new gyroscope hardware to the outside of Hubble, rather than replace the failed gyroscopes already in place. Such an approach will be simpler and more in line with the capabilities of a Dragon capsule, compared to the repair work the astronauts did on the space shuttle.

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  • Doubting Thomas

    Insufficient opportunity for graft, pork and log rolling for government agencies, employees and rent seeking strap hangers.

    I suggested around a year ago on this site that a Starship with a large payload bay and a handling arm similar to the old Space Shuttle could be the centerpiece of a good satellite servicing business.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Yes, Doubting Thomas, that would be much preferable to a Dragon capsule that has no airlock, which means that all crew must be suited-up and consuming oxygen whenever any crew is space-walking.

    Is there no means to provide an airlock for Dragon… perhaps with a slightly reduced crew?

  • Doubting Thomas

    Seems like Vast’s Haven-1 could be configured with an airlock.

    This would allow docking by a crewed Dragon and then have the lock in the Haven module. Of course, this would then require two Falcon 9 launches. Alternately, just wait 3 more years and fix / reboost the thing with Starship and still beat the 2034 orbital decay deadline (as long as the solar wind doesn’t accelerate decay like it did Skylab).

    The whole “People in the science community” sniping at SpaceX and Isaacman who are offering a solution is rich considering NASA spent the money to make Hubble maintainable in space and then didn’t bother to fund even steady sources of upkeep & obsolescence update components much less the actual ride to get there.

  • Doubting Thomas wrote:

    “I suggested around a year ago on this site that a Starship with a large payload bay and a handling arm similar to the old Space Shuttle could be the centerpiece of a good satellite servicing business.”

    Salvage 1

  • MDN

    A few comments:

    First, I expect it would be relatively trivial to add an airlock to Dragon. You simply remove the forward dome and install a cylindrical extension with the dome 6 or 8 feet further on with another hatch, and on reentry this module is jettisoned to burn up in the atmosphere and the capsule returns with no forward dome (since it enters butt first) to a normal splashdown.

    Second, wrt the idea of a SpaceX Hubble repair mission, who cares if it might possibly damage Hubble? It has served us well but its days of cutting edge research are clearly numbered with just 3 working gyros and one of them at least exhibiting intermittent problems. So imho, even a modest chance of fixing it successfully is better than just letting it die. There simply is no real downside should the mission fail.

    As far as the mission itself goes I suggest that it could be a very safe mini mission anyway by simply designing it to address the gyro issue. only. Don’t get overly ambitious! Just design a package that stows in the interstage compartment as has been done when shipping up the new ISS solar arrays recently and use 1 spacewalk to attach it. I’d design a loop of 9 gyros on a cargo strap type mechanism with 3 equally spaced groups of 3 gyros (so triple redundant) along with a solar panel and comm/control unit. And to integrate it with Hubble you simply Lasso the assembly around the body of the scope and cinch it tight. No need to crack Hubble open or do anything exotic. Just use the new comm link and gyros to orient the scope and the legacy link to run the instruments..

    That’s all we need for now. Then invest money beyond this in replacing Hubble with an 8m scope with Starship. as the next big step. which is possible already even at its nascent state of maturity.

  • Jeff Wright

    I’d rather have a Buran style shuttle replacement

  • Tregonsee314

    Mr Wright why the heck do you want overly complicated late 1970’s technology that can take 30 T max to LEO when you can have a not quite so over-complicated 2010’s technology that can take 100T+ to LEO (Starship)? Or if you complain that is not yet ready, how about 60T plus to LEO <$100M (falcon Heavy)? Buran really was a monkey copy of a bad launch system that truthfully was poorly suited to any reasonable space launch purpose. Admittedly Buran made 1 flight to orbit and managed to get back so it is ahead of Starship on that front for the present. Of course the shuttle made 135 flights with 2 catastrophic failures about a 1 in 65 failure rate that I doubt Buran would have exceeded, Even the Soviets could see it was a dead end I'm surprised they flew it even once.

    I can see longing for something more elegant than Falcon perhaps a SSTO like DC-X or even the Dream Chaser or even the earlier Shuttle ideas. Hell, the fact that Starship looks like the things Chesley Bonestall drew and lands tail first like G*d and Heinlein intended delights me to no end but I can see that even that is a bit less elegant than a spaceplane. But for Buran Jeff? It's like pining for a $150K Yugo when folks are making $15K Lamborghini Miura ( copies.

  • Jeff Wright

    Buran flew on its first try.
    Starship? We will see.

    A different design philosophy doesn’t make something “outdated.”

    Energiya/Buran was modular.
    Side payload mount allows outsized aerobrake disks for OTVs perhaps.

    Imagine a shuttle with Merlin engines and kerolox propellant and an all LOX external tank.

    Keeping tankage outside the airframe means you don’t have to cover everything with TPS.

    The orbiter might carry kerosene in the wings, the cryogens outside the airframe.

    The LOX ET can be a wet workshop, and the orbiter could perhaps come in with covered, conventional jets to land powered like any other plane…that is safer than Starship.

    I look at old and new alike.

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