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Privatise Hubble Now!

The US bureaucracy’s space branch (NASA) wants to scrap a Shuttle flight to carry out a servicing on the Hubble telescope. A petition has been started by Fernando Ribiero, a Brazilian, to “Save the Hubble“.

As one commenter on the site points out, it is easy for someone living outside the USA to demand that US taxpayers’ money and US lives be risked in a leaky Space Shuttle. For all sorts of American reasons there is a petition but only Americans can sign.

Surely the answer is obvious: privatise Hubble!

I am sure someone could set up a website taking credit card donations to pay for the upkeep of Hubble. Without the NASA inter-departmental bickering, it should be feasible for a few dollars per subscriber a year. I for one would consider this a far preferable use of my money than most government schemes I can think of.

If no trips to service the Hubble telescope are made, it will cease operating by 2007. At some point after that we can assume that the telescope would come crashing down to Earth (statistically not going to do any damage). So the privatisation method I would suggest is that used by the British government to dispose of the Trustee Savings’ Bank in the late 1980s. A price was set, to encourage some sorting out wasters from serious operators and the net proceeds were used to boost the bank’s capital. A variation of this method should keep Hubble up for the next 10 years.

11 comments to Privatise Hubble Now!

  • luisalegria

    An awful waste of money I think. Given Indian technology it will be more of an expensive target than anything else.

  • It’s not strictly a question of money.

    Hubble must be serviced by the shuttle. From now on, no shuttle flights will be made unless the shuttle can be inspected for broken tiles before re-entry, and repaired if necessary. This can only be done at the space station.

    Otherwise, a rescue shuttle must be prepped for launch in case the primary shuttle needs repair/rescue.

    Hubble’s in an orbit where getting to the space station is not an option.

    I have a bit more about it on my blog here, and hope to have more up (much) later today.

    And with this attitude, we’re going to Mars.

  • Jim Bennett

    Unfortunately, Hubble is not genuinely privatizable, as the costs of performing the refit mission (under the new rules requiring a second Shuttle to be ready to launch w/i 5 days of the first one’s launch) would be truly enormous, and there’s not much of a market for its products. Additionally, a private owner would have to carry liability insurance against the costs of it falling on somebody when it is finally deorbited.

    Of course the government could waive the requirment for a standby launch, and reduce the costs of the refit mission. But I don’t think they’d risk the downside of the mission failing.

  • billg

    You need a Shuttle to get to Hubble, you need a Shuttle to repair Hubble, you need trained astronauts to make the repairs, and you need trained astronauts to return from orbit.

    That’s assuming you are willing to take the risk that your Orbiter doesn’t have a hole in its wing. If you aren’t, you need to launch another craft to Hubble to inspect the Shuttle and take onboard 6 or 7 crew members if it is damaged.

    The private sector has none of that, and won’t get it in the next 3 years.

    The public sector has never launched two Shuttles in the quick succession that would be necessary to fly the Hubble mission and also adhere to the directives of the CAIB. That said, there’s no guarantee that the second Shuttle wouldn’t be damaged during launch.

    It’s sad to see Hubble finally approach its sell-by date. But, it was never intended to last forever. Other, better, space telescopes are in the works. (How come Hubble’s fans aren’t salivating over the prospect of a real observatory on the moon, staffed with real astronomers?)

    Give NASA a blank check and a Shuttle mission to Hubble is still too risky. O’Keefe made the correct decision.

  • Xavier

    Even if people were willing to donate money for space projects I don’t think this would work. The amount required would be way too high. Hubble just doesn’t have enough appeal to raise billions from the public. I would rather donate my money some other sort of space project like the X-Prize or space elevator. Hubble can’t survive on private funds, and I see little reason for it to continue to survive on public funds. Just let it go.

  • Rey

    Correct me if Im wrong. Did we not send astrounauts in orbit before the advent of the suttle? I believe these missions were to orbit and return. How difficult would it be for a private corporation to send an atlas class rocket (or its modern equivalent) with a modern version of the apolo lander and maintain the suttle?
    Would it even have to be manned? After all, if we can remote control two rovers in mars from earth, how hard would it be to preprogram a routine maintenace procedure for a remain in orbit maintenace bot.
    You coul launch it into orbit with a modular repair package and leave it with the shuttle after completion. After that, you would only need to send repair parts and use the maintenance bot that is in place.

  • Xavier

    As I understand it, Hubble was specifically designed to be serviced by shuttles. I don’t know how hard it would be to service it with some other sort of vehicle, but from what I’ve heard that doesn’t seem to be an option.

  • Rob Read

    How difficult would it be to change the orbit of Hubble to coincide with the hitherto useless ISS?

    Surely near the end of Hubbles life time an automated “space-tug” could be sent up to grab the HST and move it to a new orbit, it might “only” cost say 50-100M USD i.e. the same as commerical launch. Even Ariane could do it… ;)

  • billg

    Moving Hubble down and into the same orbit as ISS would require, very probably, more energy than it took to launch the thing in the first place. Hubble’s orbit in in one inclination, and ISS is in another.

    By comparison, simply deorbiting a satellite requires only that the velocity of the satellite be dropped below orbital speed. Once done, the satellite will eventually fall to Earth.

    Even if we did move Hubble, it would need to stationkeep with ISS. Just being in the same orbit would be no advantage. It needs to be close enough to ISS so that crews can get to it safely via EVA. (Remember, the ISS has no space taxi that could ferry astronauts from the station to a Hubble that was orbiting thousands of miles away.

    If you stationkeep, then you have to account for the risk of the two vehicles hitting each other. You need to ensure that Hubble can “keep up” with ISS every time the station boosts itself up a few miles in order to maintain the correct orbital parameters. And you’d probably need to ensure that the gases releases by the ISS — thrusters, etc. — don’t ruin Hubble’s optics.

    And, in any case, you’d still need the Shuttle to repairs it, and the Shuttles are going away a few years after Hubble.

  • Sigivald

    I fail to see the need to save Hubble at all.

    Assuming that the US keeps up with its plans for a moonbase and the appropriate infrastructure, it will soon enough be possible to (relatively) cheaply put up a Brand New telescope using technology, oh, a decade and change more current than Hubble’s, and with any luck it’ll work right the first time.

    (And, of course, if the US does not keep up with those plans, getting Hubble repaired or replaced will be pretty much impossible without a new privatised space infrastructure. Such a thing is devoutly to be wished for, but is likely to come far too late to save Hubble anyway.)

  • Just John

    How about sending up a ship to simply grab the Hubble and then fly back down with it? While I’m sure watching the Hubble burn up would be fun, I wouldn’t mind it being returned safely to Earth and put in a museum, rather than only remembering it through pictures or re-creations.