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NASA Space Science

NASA Ponders What To Do With a Pair of Free Space Telescopes 97

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the scientists-use-mirror-to-incinerate-kremlin dept.
scibri writes "A few months ago, the secretive National Reconnaissance Office gave NASA two Hubble-sized space telescopes that it didn't want anymore. Now the space agency has to figure out what to do with them, and whether it can afford it. The leading candidate to use one of the telescopes is the the proposed Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), which would search for the imprint of dark energy, find exoplanets and study star-forming regions of the Galaxy. The NRO telescope could speed up the mission, but may end up costing more in the long run." A few issues with re-purposing the NRO satellite: higher launch costs because it's bigger, it can't see as far or as much IR (but it can see fainter objects, and could be used in planet detection), and the need for a bigger camera.
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NASA Ponders What To Do With a Pair of Free Space Telescopes

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  • Wider Access (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jythie (914043) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:07AM (#41539267)
    Getting time on the big telescopes has always been a bit of a trial since they are a limited resource and there are a lot of people who want to use them.

    These telescopes do not need some special unique mission/purpose.. just having more capacity and schedule time for a wider group of scientists would be worthwhile right there, at least to the people who get time on them.
    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Which is great, as long as the assessed costs to those researchers/institutions represent the cost to operate, plus a fair amortized launch cost.

      And in order to lift those scopes to their viewing points, you've got to have a solid business plan that shows how these users will be committed enough to justify the investment.

      When you're throwing around $billions, it's not a matter of "build it and hope they show up." (Well, at least I'd hope not.)

      • Re:Wider Access (Score:5, Insightful)

        by icebike (68054) * on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @02:54PM (#41542077)

        And in order to lift those scopes to their viewing points, you've got to have a solid business plan that shows how these users will be committed enough to justify the investment.

        Business plan?

        What part of Astronomy is based on business plans?
        Even if someone is willing to pay to use a telescope somewhere, it's always with grant money. There is no market at work here, its pure science, with little hope of any gain other than knowledge for knowledge's sake.

        • by argStyopa (232550)

          You *still* have to have a financial plan.
          You cannot - I hope to god you cannot - fling a $1.6 billion mission into space without doing some sort of analysis as regards costs.

          If putting that telescope in the sky would be "really awesome" but ultimately you've only got 'customers' for $600 million of the costs, then understand that it's a $1 billion cost, and may or may not be worth that.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      Getting time on the big telescopes has always been a bit of a trial since they are a limited resource and there are a lot of people who want to use them.
      These telescopes do not need some special unique mission/purpose.. just having more capacity and schedule time for a wider group of scientists would be worthwhile right there, at least to the people who get time on them.

      Wait. weren't these designed for terrestrial observation?

      How can we be sure these things are even suitable for deep space imaging? Do they have the proper stabilization and aiming capabilities?

      Will the NRO allow them to be used for their original purpose (earth observation), or would that reveal too much about current capabilities?
      If they would allow earth observation, wouldn't NOAA or Dept of Interior or Agriculture be a better candidate agencies? What about Google Earth?

      Can they be maintained in space f

      • Re:Wider Access (Score:4, Insightful)

        by RoboRay (735839) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @02:58PM (#41542117)

        Wait. weren't these designed for terrestrial observation?

        This is answered in the article.

        How can we be sure these things are even suitable for deep space imaging?

        This is answered in the article.

        Do they have the proper stabilization and aiming capabilities?

        This is answered in the article.

        Will the NRO allow them to be used for their original purpose (earth observation), or would that reveal too much about current capabilities?

        This is answered in the article.

        If they would allow earth observation, wouldn't NOAA or Dept of Interior or Agriculture be a better candidate agencies? What about Google Earth?

        This is answered in the article.

        Can they be maintained in space for years and years without service?

        This is answered in the article.

        Can they be remotely serviced and refueled?

        This is answered in the article.

        Could you send them to Mars?

        OK, now, this is just getting silly.

        • by jythie (914043)
          But that would involve reading the article! Who has time to that when there are comments to post!
  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:07AM (#41539277)

    I mean an Astronomer with a job is a rare thing.

    • by mmelson (441923)

      According to the WSJ [wsj.com], Astronomy and Astrophysics had a 0% unemployment rate as of the 2010 census.

      • Your link isn't working for me, but unemployment numbers only count people who are actively looking. If they gave up and got jobs at McDonalds or Walmart to keep from starving, they wouldn't be counted as unemployed.

      • That's for undergraduate Astronomy *majors*--they are getting jobs, but not as Astronomers. Of course, most Art History majors don't go on to be Art Historians either--but many of us would hope that a degree in astronomy would be more like a degree in engineering than a humanities degree.
  • Easy. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ddd0004 (1984672) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:09AM (#41539295)

    Make the first set of space binoculars

  • by Tator Tot (1324235) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:13AM (#41539363)

    I always found it funny how NASA used the picture-taking satellites as telescopes, while the NRO and DoD uses them more like microscopes.

  • Neighbor (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:13AM (#41539365) Journal

    I have a cute neighbor...

  • by cellocgw (617879) <cellocgw@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:13AM (#41539367) Journal

    Take a googletour of the newer ground-based visible-spectrum telescopes. Replete w/ new mirror technology and advance adaptive optic systems, these outperform any telescope that can be put into space -- but just in the visible.
    The only good reason to launch a telescope is to do IR and UV work, i.e. wavelengths that are significantly absorbed by the atmosphere.

    • by Strider- (39683) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:53AM (#41539941)

      Space based telescopes also have one other important advantage over their earth-bound siblings, namely the ability to image a target for extremely long periods of time. Except for the polar regions, telescopes on earth realistically only have 4 to 6 hours of useable imaging time per night. The rest of the time is spent waiting for it to get dark. A telescope in orbit, on the other hand, can stay pointed on a target for days, weeks or months at a time.

      Canada's "Humble" space telescope (MOST), for example, stared at a patch of the sky for 5 years straight. Its mission is to continually watch a group of stars, watching for subtle variations in their brightness which could a) indicate the transit of extra-solar planets and b) help determine the composition of these stars.

  •     Can't have enough stuff looking for possible collision sources, can we?
        Or am I just another paranoid, SysFy Channel watching meat bag?

  • Yard Sale (Score:4, Funny)

    by senorpoco (1396603) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:19AM (#41539447)
    How come I never seem to find anything cool when I go to a yard sale.
    • How come I never seem to find anything cool when I go to a yard sale.

      Gotta get out there early, beat the blue-hairs to the punch.

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:21AM (#41539477) Journal

    and use the money to build something you really want. Has nobody here gotten useless (to you) tech from a relative for your birthday? Stick those puppies on ebay and go get some real space science stuff.

    • by LtGordon (1421725)
      Sell them to whom exactly? You can be sure that sats designed for reconaissance aren't going to be authorized for sale outside of the United States or for anything but astronomy. DigitalGlobe/GeoEye are unlikely to be interested unless they got a hell of a deal.
  • I say allow the Open community to use them to create an Open Space Exploration Foundation....

  • Obligatory XKCD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scorp1us (235526) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:25AM (#41539545) Journal

    Depth Perception [xkcd.com]

    Binocular galactic vision!

  • Matched pair of shooting stars?

    >> They're both still on the ground, dumbass.

    Nevermind. Sell them to China or Russian and then use the money for general funding.

  • Dear NASA (Score:5, Funny)

    by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @11:58AM (#41540021) Journal
    Dear NASA, Regarding the two satellites that the NRO wants to give you. Please take them and sell them to Google. Then use that money to get a working space program together.
  • by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:12PM (#41540163)
    While NASA literally struggled to raise funds to build one Hubble, the NRO had the funds to build many more than three "Hubbles."

    (The NRO showed two completed and parts for a third, imagine how many others actually went into space)
    • that was the most insightful thing i've read on /. in some time. but i have to mod points (thus is life)
    • by Mt._Honkey (514673) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @01:19PM (#41540989)
      At least 17, from a quick Wikipedia search: KH-11 [wikipedia.org], and Misty [wikipedia.org]
      • by steelfood (895457)

        You call those spy satellite photos? Google Maps has better resolution and in color to boot.

        • Check when the Kiev was built. It was laid down in 1970 and entered service in 1975.
        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Keep in mind that:

          1. The satellite photos may have been degraded intentionally so as to not reveal the capabilities of the satellite.
          2. Google Maps uses aerial photos, while the satellites have to be pretty high up to not have their orbits degrade. Reading an eye chart from 20 feet and 200 feet are very different problems.

          I wouldn't be surprised if a cheap predator drone with its tiny cameras takes better photos than a satellite. The difference is that nobody is going to shoot down the satellite due to

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      Well, according to wikipedia the cost of a KH11 is about half the hubble. They have economies of scale as well. I never understood with things like the Hubble why they don't make more than one. At almost any step of manufacture the cost to just stick one more whatever on the rig and do what you just did 5 minutes ago is pretty cheap compared to doing the first one.

      It is like saying that StupidCo spent $50M building a single smartphone, but every teenager is running around with an iPhone it seems. Well,

  • Just shows the difference between the level and scrutiny of funding between the military/intelligence sector and the civilian sector. NASA has to go through a long period of request and debate to get a space telescope, while the military just builds a few too many with no comment from anyone.

    • by Beorytis (1014777)
      I guess they're like HumVees or other military gear. They're not that expensive until you try to use them.

      Note to self: Value of space telescopes greatly diminished when they are not actually in space.

    • Every time a satellite is built they usually build a spare in case the launch goes wrong. Once they decide they have enough satellites these spares can either be discarded or repurposed. That is probably what happened here.
  • How about Nasa and Google ( or another interested business/third party) come together and make a complete, consistent, as-detailed-as-hubble map of the sky? Like Google Sky, but with consistent snaps of the quality that would surpass any ground based telescope? After the first run, do a second and third scan, with perhaps a year or two between runs. With a bit of analysis - software or otherwise - it should be possible to develop a detailed _dynamic_ picture at various scales. This would essentially prese
    • The Sloan Sky Survey has been doing this for a decade, on its 7th(?) round of mapping the whole sky. The Dark Energy Survey just recorded its test images (first light). At the end of the decade the Synoptic survey will map the sky every week recording petabytes a year. Much of this data will be available to public who may have time to look at things the professionals miss. (I probably overlooked a few projects too).
  • Maybe Planetary Resources could buy them to map asteroids for mining.

  • I am surprised how many have been funded in the past decade. Many of these approach a billion dollars each. Not only do you include construction costs, but operational costs of at least 10% of its construction cost a year. In the current economic climate, not only are good ideas not being built, but some of the older scopes are being de-funded.
  • Politicians are undependable. Why not tap their space exploration / science supporters directly?
  • From the article: "One way to reduce the cost of the NRO-WFIRST mission for NASA's astrophysics division would be to launch it on one of the new fleet of rockets that NASA will be eager to test at the end of the decade as it moves beyond the now-grounded space shuttles. But that would involve NASA's human space programme, an option that the science-definition team has been asked to consider. It could mean moving the mission from its intended orbit around the Sun -- at a dynamically stable spot known as a L

  • My first reaction to this article was 'wow NASA is getting two space telescopes', but immediately after that was realization of how ridiculous our military budget is.

    Question is, how do we reduce it to a sane level without seriously harming the economy due to an influx of unskilled soldiers?
    • by mspohr (589790)

      I don't think it's the soldiers who are the big expense in the military budget.
      I think it's the "military-industrial complex" which sells lots of obscenely overpriced kit to the military.
      If it were possible to cut back the military budget (unlikely), you would see a few unemployed engineers (who could probably easily find civilian jobs). You'd also see a drop in profits for all of the military contractors.

  • So, someone setup a crowd-tilt campaign or something to get together the money to get these things launched.

Real Users find the one combination of bizarre input values that shuts down the system for days.

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