For more than three years, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope which idly circled the Sun while locked in a retirement safe way, while its successor, the Webb Telescope, took over his cosmic observing duties. An upcoming servicing mission, however, could give the old telescope a new purpose: protecting Earth from dangerous asteroids.
This week, Washington-based company Rhea Space Activity Office has partnered that it was chosen to develop the Spitzer Resurrector Mission. The mission will travel to the Spitzer telescope to service and return it to operations, with plans to launch in 2026, according to the company. Spitzer is currently in orbit around the Day, following behind the Earth.
Spitzer studied the universe in infrared light for 16 years before NASA decided to end its mission, putting the telescope into safe mode in January 2020. Its successor, the Webb Telescopewill be launched in December 2021.
NASA decided to stop Spitzer science operations in anticipation of Webb’s launch, although the telescope was still operational at the time. At the current distance from Earth, about twice the distance between the planet and the Sun, NASA cannot directly communicate with the telescope, so a serving spacecraft must meet it in orbit.
The Spitzer Resurrector Mission, in partnership with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Blue Sun Enterprises, and Lockheed Martin, included a servicing spacecraft that traveled more than 186 million miles to get to the telescope.
Using in-space service assembly and manufacturing (ISAM) techniques developed by the Department of the Air Force and the US Space Force, the spacecraft will repurpose the Spitzer telescope, allowing it to detect and identify potentially hazardous Near-Earth objects. “The implications for ISAM of reviving Spitzer are staggering,” Shawn Usman, Rhea’s CEO, said in the company’s statement. “This is the most complex robotic mission ever undertaken by man.”
Spitzer was launched in 2003 with an original mission timeline of just five years, but the telescope continues, observing comets, asteroids, and even looking for an unknown ring around Saturn. The telescope also identified seven Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, which remains the largest number of terrestrial exoplanets ever found orbiting a star.
It will be interesting to see Spitzer revived in a new form, helping scientists to monitor our cosmic environment from future threats.
For more spaceflight in your life, follow us on Twitter and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Space flight PAGE.