NASA and Elon Musk-run SpaceX on Friday signed a pact to study the feasibility of a joint programme to boost Hubble Space Telescope into a higher orbit with the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, at no cost to the government.
Hubble has been operating since 1990, about 540 kms above Earth in an orbit that is slowly decaying over time.
Reboosting Hubble into a higher, more stable orbit could add multiple years of operations to its life, according to the US space agency.
SpaceX, in partnership with the Polaris Programme, proposed a study to better understand the technical challenges associated with servicing missions.
"This study is an exciting example of the innovative approaches NASA is exploring through private-public partnerships," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
While Hubble and Dragon will serve as test models for this study, portions of the mission concept may be applicable to other spacecraft, particularly those in near-Earth orbit like Hubble, said NASA.
At the end of its lifetime, NASA plans to safely de-orbit or dispose of Hubble.
"SpaceX and the Polaris Programme want to expand the boundaries of current technology and explore how commercial partnerships can creatively solve challenging, complex problems," said Jessica Jensen, vice president of Customer Operations & Integration at SpaceX.
Meanwhile, NASA and SpaceX are targeting October 5 for the launch of the agency's Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Crew-5 flight will carry NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, who will serve as mission commander and pilot, respectively, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina, who will serve as mission specialists.
(With inputs from IANS)