What science can you do with a couple of ex-spy satellites? The twin telescopes, recently donated to NASA from a scrapped surveillance mission, have inspired the space agency to hunt for intriguing ideas – starting with a two-day brainstorm that kicked off yesterday.
“We’re looking at issues such as, is it doable? Is it interesting, unique or compelling?” says George Fletcher at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, who is heading up the ideas search. “We want to do more than just, ‘OK, we have a space telescope, let’s go point it at a star’.”
One thing NASA won’t do with the telescopes is use them to look at Earth, he says, though studying the upper atmosphere is allowed. “We don’t want it to appear like NASA is now a spy agency.”
Last year, the US National Reconnaissance Office offered NASA two sets of optics similar to those on the Hubble space telescope but with a slightly wider field of view. The parts have been in storage while NASA decides what to do with them.
Previously NASA officials had suggested using one of the telescopes as part of a planned mission to investigate dark energy, the mysterious entity that is accelerating the universe’s expansion. Now they say they are willing to consider alternatives.
Thirty-three possibilities are due to be presented at the two-day workshop in Huntsville, including sending a telescope to orbit Mars, either to stare out to space from that unique vantage point or to image the planet’s surface in high resolution.
Other options to be presented are using the telescopes to search for and photograph exoplanets, to take pictures of the cosmos in ultraviolet wavelengths, and to map space debris or asteroids zooming around near Earth.
Fletcher’s team will choose up to six ideas for further study, and will release a full report in May.
Syndicated Content: Jacob Aron, New Scientist