NASA Gets Two Telescopes From Spy Agency

By Amir Khan on June 5, 2012 11:52 AM EDT

Hubble
A spy satellite organization donated two powerful telescopes, stronger than the Hubble Space Telescope (pictured), to NASA (Photo: Creative Commons)

Some children hate hand-me-downs, but NASA is excited about their latest -- two telescopes as large and powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope. The telescopes have never been launched and are in storage in Rochester, N.Y.

Who would donate such a gift? The National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that looks after the US's spy satellites.

"It's great news," NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz, told the Washington Post. "It's real hardware, and it's got really impressive capabilities."

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The telescopes are "space qualified" according to NASA,  and were built for the NRO by private contractors. The telescopes have 8 foot (2.4 meter) mirrors, just like the Hubble Telescope, but have 100 times the field of view.

Transferring technology from a military-space organization to a civilian agency is rare, but could be a boon to NASA, which is suffering from extensive budget cuts.

"The hardware is approximately the same size as the Hubble but uses newer, much lighter mirror and structure technology," Loretta DeSio, spokeswoman for the NRO, told the Washington Post. "Some components were removed before the transfer."

Although the telescopes have been declassified, she would not say what components were removed nor would she provide a picture of the telescopes.

The new telescopes are "actually better than the Hubble. They're the same size, but the optical design is such that you can put a broader set of instruments on the back," David Spergel, a Princeton University astrophysicist and a co-chair of the National Academies of Science committee on astronomy and astrophysics, told the Washington Post.

The telescopes need some work before they are fully functional -- they have no instruments, such as cameras. Even worse, there is a severe lack of funding for a launch. There's a real chance the telescopes never leave Earth, according to Discover Magazine.

"NASA does not have in its current budget the funding necessary to develop a space telescope mission using these new telescopes," Hertz said, according to Talking Points Memo. "We don't anticipate ever being rich enough to use both of them, but it sure would be fun to think about."

NASA is looking at ways to launch at least one of the telescopes, ideally by 2020, with the help of private space companies.

"We're looking at all possible opportunities for cost-sharing on this," Hertz said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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