NASA Gets Two New Space Telescopes, Thanks to US MilitaryNASA has just gotten their hands on two slightly orbital telescopes courtesy of the National Reconnaissance Office. The best part? These telescopes are even more powerful than the Hubble that NASA has been using.
The gift includes two 2.4 meter telescopes billed as 'space qualified,' meaning that they can withstand the rigors of space, and two satellite casings to house the telescopes in.
The Hubble Space Telescope as seen from Space Shuttle Atlantis
Of course, the telescopes aren't orbiting yet, but if anyone is equipped to change that, it would be NASA. All NASA needs to do is launch them.
The new telescopes can observe 100 times the image area that the Hubble can.
This is great news for NASA, who has seen funding cut after funding cut leave its science budget all but gone. These two telescopes would have cost more than NASA could have justified.
It actually isn't unheard of for spy satellites to be used for science missions, though many agencies closely protect their resources. It makes sense, given that the government spends more on military space equipment than NASA missions. Some of the earliest supernova hunting was done with spy equipment. While the telescopes had a narrow field of view and limited zoom, they could do one thing that most other satellites couldn't: pivot direction quickly enough to catch a supernova moments after it appeared.
As it stands right now, however, NASA can't afford to launch the telescopes. So that means that they will be kept in storage for now, until the company decides what to do with them.
But there is a silver lining to the gift: the NRO not needing the satellites probably means that the threat status, at least internally, has been lowered. Or it could mean that the NRO has even more powerful equipment. But I like the former explanation better.