WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. government’s secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes even more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, officials said.
The telescopes designed for surveillance uses for the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and will be made available to the space agency to study the heavens, The Washington Post reported Monday.
NASA officials acknowledged they are without a program to launch any telescope at the moment, and it would be 2020 before even one of the two gifted telescopes could be on its way into orbit.
Still, the unexpected gift could give NASA’s space science program an opportunity to resurrect a plan to launch a new telescope to study the mysterious “dark energy” causing the universe’s expansion to accelerate, a proposal given top priority in the latest “decadal survey” of goals in astronomy and astrophysics.
The gift will take some of the sting out of the inevitable demise of the Hubble telescope, which has been repaired in orbit five times.
With no further repair missions planned following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet, the Hubble will gradually lose the ability to maintain its position and focus, and at some point in the future NASA will de-orbit the telescope and it will crash into the Pacific Ocean.
“Instead of losing a terrific telescope, you now have two telescopes even better to replace it with,” said David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chairman of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.