SpaceX and NASA have agreed to study the possibility of boosting the Hubble Space Telescope to a higher orbit, with the goal of extending its life.
It has been operating since 1990, about 540 kilometres above Earth in a slowly decaying orbit.
Space Shuttle missions have previously restored Hubble's altitude by reducing the small but still present atmospheric drag in this region of space.
The proposed new effort would involve a SpaceX Dragon capsule.
"A few months ago, SpaceX approached NASA with the idea for a study whether a commercial crew could help reboost our Hubble spacecraft," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's chief scientist. The study is free of charge to NASA.
Until the technical challenges are better understood, there are no plans to conduct or fund such a mission.
The Dragon spacecraft does not have a robotic arm, unlike the Space Shuttle, and would require modification for such a mission.
It is believed that SpaceX proposed the idea in partnership with the Polaris Program, which is led by payments billionaire Jared Isaacman, who chartered a SpaceX Crew Dragon to orbit Earth with three other private astronauts last year.
"This would certainly fit within the parameters we established for the Polaris program," Isaacman said in response to a question about whether boosting Hubble could be the goal for a future Polaris mission.
In response to a reporter's question of whether the mission might be perceived as a way to provide wealthy people with space tasks, Zurbuchen said: "I think it's only appropriate for us to look at this because of the tremendous value this research asset has for us."
Hubble is one of science's most valuable instruments, having just discovered the farthest star ever seen - Earendel, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach us.
Hubble Space Telescope project manager Patrick Crouse says it'll remain operational through this decade, with a 50 percent chance of deorbiting in 2037.
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