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SpaceX and Jared Isaacman offer private mission to NASA to raise Hubble’s orbit

Capitalism in space: In a press release issued yesterday, NASA revealed that it has signed an unfunded agreement with SpaceX and Jared Isaacman’s Polaris program (which has purchased a series of manned missions on Dragon) to study the possibility of sending one of those private manned missions to the Hubble Space Telescope to raise its orbit.

SpaceX – in partnership with the Polaris Program – proposed this study to better understand the technical challenges associated with servicing missions. This study is non-exclusive, and other companies may propose similar studies with different rockets or spacecraft as their model.

Teams expect the study to take up to six months, collecting technical data from both Hubble and the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. This data will help determine whether it would be possible to safely rendezvous, dock, and move the telescope into a more stable orbit.

In my book describing the history of the people who created Hubble, The Universe in a Mirror, I repeatedly noted how throughout its history people have tried to kill it, first in the design phase, then in the budget, then during construction, then after it was launched and the mirror was found to be ground incorrectly, and then after the Columbia accident when NASA management tried to cancel its last shuttle servicing mission.

Every attempt failed. As I have noted in that book and many times since its publication, Hubble is a telescope that will not die. NASA has for years intended to launch a mission to de-orbit it when its orbit had decayed enough that it was unstable. I’ve always said that when that time came, someone would propose and push for a mission to instead raise that orbit.

That prediction is now coming true. Though no robot arm exists yet for Dragon to use to grab Hubble in any rendezvous attempt, creating one is hardly difficult. At that point raising the telescope’s orbit becomes relatively trivial.

Whether such a mission could do more, such as replace Hubble’s ailing gyroscopes, is unknown. It would be foolish however not to review that possibility as well.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Gary

    As you have noted many times, SpaceX’s ability to get to space quickly and cheaply and, with Starship, carrying large payloads should change everything about how we view practical applications in space. What was once impossible – either from and engineering or a cost standpoint – now can be viewed in a whole new light.

    I look forward to Starship carrying a whole fleet of drones to explore Mars. Musk should consider that in the first “dry run” of Starship to Mars before sending humans.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Be nice if a few major Universities pitched in for this effort. I am sure that Hubble provided much data as grist for PhD mills. With enough effort by a consortium of Universities, I’m sure that SpaceX could devise “shuttle like” remote arms on Starship variant to permit upgrade of Hubble instrumentations which was designed to be repairable / upgradeable.

  • geoffc

    I have seen people suggest that the APAS compatible docking adapter the shuttle left on the last mission means that Dragon can literally dock to the Hubble to reboost it so no CanadaArm needed.

    Servicing it, now that is a different question. I find it hard to believe NASA would let a civilian within a 1000 miles of Hubble, but I guess if they get a free reboost, maybe they will.

    But would be cool to send a Starship with a payload bay outfitted like the Shuttles, with a simpler arm, and the crew in a Dragon to actually service it. When that day comes, truly your tag of Capitalism in Space will be well and truly confirmed.

  • wayne

    The Universe in a Mirror
    Robert Zimmerman
    Explorers Club (June 2008)

  • Ray Van Dune

    “Though no robot arm exists yet for Dragon to use to grab Hubble in any rendezvous attempt, creating one is hardly difficult. At that point raising the telescope’s orbit becomes relatively trivial.”

    I must respectfully disagree on two counts:
    1. Dragon is not designed for the mounting of external devices. Almost nothing is “impossible”, but mounting a robot arm on Dragon (and being able to launch it) would be pretty close.
    2. Dragon and Hubble are too similar in mass, making the dynamics of applying thrust to the combined system exceedingly complex, especially considering that Dragon’s thrusters are built for docking and deorbiting, much simpler tasks than actively grappling and maneuvering another object of similar mass.

    Why not a ait for Starship, bring the telescope into the payload bay, and work on it in your shirtsleeves!

    Just kidding… bring it down, put it in the Smithsonian, and replace it with a better one, based on the NROLs already in storage.

  • George C

    Falcon 9 heavy can put 6.8e4 kg to leo. (SpaceX web site) and STS did only 2.8e4 kg (wikipedea). So you don’t need Starship to do big stuff. Exactly what or how, who knows.

  • GaryMike

    Detonate a small nuke behind the telescope…

  • wayne

    Starfish Prime Event;
    Interim Report

  • Alton

    Well WE, already have many types of remote arms available……Woods Hole and other Oceanographic Institutions use them every Day of Planetary Explorations.

    On Ye Olde Alvin , & , current new generations of Remote Control Submersibles…setting in shops all around the USA.

    With enough Rocket Scientists & Engineers employed by SpaceX and Graduate Schools….flying a working article should be easier than grossing (hunt) with out Buck Shot.

    Even if you add a port and equipment tunnel bus in a future or current Dragons on the Assembly line….

  • pzatchok

    I wonder if a Dragon can be modified for a second hatch in the bottom facing the trunk? It can not be used for re-entry but as a service module in space?

    The trunk can be modified to house two people and be a pressure chamber so the workers can don space suits and go out and service what ever they need. An arm could be attached to each side on the trunk.
    The extra large trunk could carry more supplies and lengthen their stay to 2or 3 weeks for servicing.

    It can then be docked at the ISS for refueling, resupply.and just plain parking.

    How long will it take to go from the ISS over to Hubble? A few days a week?

  • sippin_bourbon


    They would never be able to land that Dragon. They would have to have a second means to get that crew back.
    In essence it would be a dedicated capsule for launch, and then disposed of, because NASA does not like holes or cutaways in the heat shield.

    But instead of that, they could pack the trunk with a small inflatable module. Would be tricky getting it docked on the front of the dragon, but that would give them space to don and doff suits. Not sure about an airlock module though. That would be another hurdle.

    Would have to be a larger than average trunk, with an arm for capturing the HST.

    This would probable have to require the Falcon Heavy.

  • Edward

    pzatchok asked: “How long will it take to go from the ISS over to Hubble? A few days a week?

    The limiting factor is the delta-V. Hubble’s orbit is significantly different than the ISS orbit, so the delta-V would be enormous, and Dragon is not capable of changing its orbital plane by that much.

    This is the problem with movies like “Gravity.” George Clooney and Sandra Bullock could not have changed orbit from Hubble to the ISS, but now moviegoers around the world have the idea that once in space, the ISS is ‘just over there.’

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