Update for 5:30 p.m. EDT on Sept. 29: NASA and SpaceX announced today that they are conducting a feasibility study into the potential use of a Dragon spacecraft to enhance and potentially maintain the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope. Read our story about the Dragon Hubble study here. You can listen to the press conference and announcement above.
NASA will hold a press conference today (September 29) on a mysterious and intriguing new study, and you can listen live.
The briefing, which begins at 4:30 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT), will “discuss a new study examining potential commercial space opportunities for NASA science missions,” according to agency officials wrote in a statement (opens in new tab). Catch it live here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly through the space agency (opens in new tab).
The participants of the briefing are:
- Thomas Zurbuchen, Deputy Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
- Kathy Lueders, Associate Administrator, NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate
- Jessica Jensen, Vice President, Customer Operations and Integration, SpaceX
- Jared Isaacman, commercial astronaut and commander of the Polaris Dawn
- Patrick Crouse, Hubble Space Telescope Project Manager, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Related: SpaceX’s Polaris Dawn Private Crew Talks Their Ambitious Mission (Exclusive)
NASA didn’t provide any further details about the study, but this lineup of panelists makes for some juicy speculation.
Polaris Dawn, for example, will send Isaacman and three crew members into Earth orbit aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. It will be the second private orbital mission for Isaacman, who has funded and commanded SpaceX Inspiration4 Flight in September 2021.
Polaris Dawn is scheduled to launch in March 2023 at the earliest and spend up to five days in orbit. If all goes according to plan, the mission will reach a maximum altitude of about 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) and take the crew further from Earth than any astronauts have come since Apollo days. Polaris Dawn will also show the first-ever commercial spacewalk, an interesting detail considering a member of the Hubble team will be attending today’s media call.
That Hubble Space Telescope launched in April 1990 and is still running today, thanks in no small part to five maintenance missions performed by NASA astronauts aboard the now-retired astronaut Space Shuttle from 1993 to 2009. It probably weighs on credulity to assume that Polaris Dawn could visit Hubble — would NASA allow an experimental private spacewalk anywhere near the iconic and prized area? – but maybe one of his follow-up missions will.
Polaris Dawn is the first of three planned flights in the Polaris program that Isaacman is directing. Few details have been released about the next two missions, but the second will presumably also use a dragon. The third will deal spaceship, the giant rocket-spacecraft combination SpaceX is developing to take people and cargo to the Moon and Mars. In fact, the The Polaris website bills for Mission 3 (opens in new tab) as “the first manned space flight on Starship”.
Could Polaris Mission 2 or Mission 3 be a maintenance flight to Hubble, a chance for NASA to repair and modernize the venerable observatory for the first time in more than a decade? We’ll just have to tune into today’s briefing to find out.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaelwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).
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