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NASA Space Science

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

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 @12:07PM (#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 jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:07PM (#41539277)

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

  • by Tator Tot ( 1324235 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:13PM (#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.

  • by cellocgw ( 617879 ) <> on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:13PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @12:18PM (#41539421)

    No, government thinks as follows: "I need to perform legislative and administrative acts to favour the people who regularly donate to my campaign or promise me a cushy consultancy after I leave government."

    Anything else is incidental.

  • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @01:12PM (#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)
  • Re:Wider Access (Score:5, Insightful)

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

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

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

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp