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NASA Space Science

What Will NASA Do With Its Gifted Spy 'Scopes? 129

astroengine writes "NASA has begun surveying scientists on what they would like to do with two Hubble-class space telescopes donated to the civilian space agency by its secretive sibling, the National Reconnaissance Office — which operates the nation's spy satellites. But the gifts have some formidable strings attached, including costs to develop instruments and launch the observatories. The telescopes, though declassified, also are subject to export regulations. 'We need to retain possession and control,' NASA's astrophysics division director Paul Hertz told Discovery News. 'That doesn't preclude us from partnering (with other countries). It just sets boundaries on the nature of the partnership.' NASA also isn't allowed to use the telescopes for any Earth-observing missions. Topping the list of possible missions for the donor hardware is a remake of NASA's planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, known as WFIRST. The mission, estimated to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, is intended to answer questions about dark energy, a relatively recently discovered phenomenon that is believed to be speeding up the universe's rate of expansion."
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What Will NASA Do With Its Gifted Spy 'Scopes?

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  • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @02:39PM (#42107515)

    NASA has a tiny budget compared to military and intelligence, so it's no surprise that gear NASA has to fight to fund can be given away as surplus or obsolete by another agency.

    I'm just glad, and a bit surprised, the 'free' telescopes weren't scrapped or left to rust in some military warehouse.

  • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @03:17PM (#42107963)

    Because there is a requirement to maintain a certain amount of capability (so if a spy satellite fails, they need to have a spare to launch to replace it in short order), and the long lead times (say 5 to 10 years) to build these satellites, the DoD orders a number of satellites, and some of them may possibly never actually end up being flight vehicles.

    These two satellite 'cores' are just such spares. They weren't launched because a new generation of spy satellites were put into operation before these were needed. There are probably no other examples of these things still in orbit, though the model was probably used for a decade or more.

    Remember, NASA wasn't given two completed satellites, they were given two mirror assembly's and the associated bus and structure. It is up to NASA to design and build a useful science satellite with them.

    As to the DoD having something better, they probably do, but it isn't the mirror that is better, it's that the bus and structure will be of a different design. Optically, the limitation on a downward looking spy satellite will be the atmosphere, not the mirror or other associated optical components.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @03:56PM (#42108385) Homepage

    Launch and park them at the L4 and L5 points. and you would get some serious science out of them. Detecting and imaging Exoplanets as well as other things roaming the galaxy would become a lot easier with a stereo spread that wide.

  • Re:Thoughts (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @04:54PM (#42109133)

    ...I think you're confusing science fiction with reality there. Unless the government has been amazing at hiding insanely advanced science and technology from the rest of us(and keep in mind, they have a hell of a time hiding a *sex scandal*), it is actually impossible to read anything through a roof from space. You can zoom in all you like(not actually true, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt here.) All you'll get is a better image of the roof.

    Sci-fi writers, myself included, can generally get away with using infrared from space to track warm bodies in a cool environment(or cool bodies in a warm environment), but even that fails through, say, glass, which isn't transparent to IR. Also, a dime, being metal, will probably be at the same temperature as its environment.

    Maybe they could use x-rays, if you've got a powerful x-ray source under the dime. Or neutrinos, if you're using dimes either thick enough to reach the satellite in orbit or that are made out of neutronium. Of course, if you've got a 400 km thick dime, reading the date on it would probably be pretty easy, if you had a really fast camera, a good eye, and didn't run into the massive dime-tower at 25,000 mph.

    It's a fair bet the government has access to technology far better than we do, but if they had access to that level of tech, they wouldn't have to resort to drone strikes on terrorists.

    They'd simply suck them through a wormhole into the sun.

    Or...I guess they could have a *really* long lens that would reach down from orbit and drill through your roof, but the kinetic energy of such a large satellite striking your roof, even partially, might cause more problems than could ever be caused by surreptitious reading of dates on your private coinage.

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351