Commercial spaceflight company, Sierra Nevada is proposing a crewed version of its Dream Chaser spacecraft, designed to transport cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) beginning in 2019, to carry astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope, to conduct repairs.
Five servicing missions to the Hubble have been conducted since its 1990 launch, all via NASA space shuttles.
A new mission would be useful in terms of replacing aging components, such as sensors and navigation hardware.
Last year, NASA extended Hubble’s science operations for another five years. A crewed mission to service the telescope, whose data has resulted in more than 11,000 research papers from over a million observations, could extend Hubble’s lifetime and utility into the next decade.
Data collected by Hubble has played a crucial role in helping scientists understand galaxy formation, black holes, and the rate at which the universe is expanding.
With a design similar to that of the space shuttle, the smaller Dream Chaser would have to be modified for a crewed flight with the addition of life-support and abort mechanisms.
Blue Origin says it has already designed plans for a crewed Dream Chaser.
NASA’s $9 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is set to launch in October 2018. It will be placed further than the Moon in a stable L2 position, beyond any location astronauts can reach with current spacecraft technology.
Sometimes billed as Hubble’s successor, JWST will observe mostly in the infrared in its mission to study the early universe.
Keeping Hubble operational would provide scientists with visual data to confirm findings by JWST.
There have been some indications that the Trump administration supports a crewed mission to maintain and upgrade Hubble. Such a move would have to be authorized by the new NASA Administrator, who has not yet been designated.
Fostering private-public partnerships for space projects is another stated administration goal.