So it appears NASA is not only facing budget setbacks but is now relegated to accepting leftovers from more “resourceful agencies.”
In the case of the National Reconnaissance Office, NASA will gladly take what it can get.
The NRO is the department in control of the United States fleet of spy satellites, but apparently it had a couple left over, both of which happened to be comparable in size to the Hubble telescope.
But if the NRO doesn’t have a use for them, what good can they do NASA?
According to the head repairman of the original hubble telescope Dr. John Grunsfeld, his plan is to point them into the darkest corners of the universe, where “mysterious dark energy” appears to be expanding.
“This is a total game changer,” said David N. Spergel of Princeton…“I think this is a tremendous opportunity for this community.”
According to the NY Times, it could save hundreds of millions off an already proposed plan for the WFirst project that cost $1.5 billion and isn’t slated to roll out (if approved) until 2024.
Astronomers have been clamoring for the chance to explore the dark energy for years, and now it looks like the leftover telescopes could provide an opportunity to do just that.
But there is a bit of a problem, the telescopes were designed to look down at the Earth, not out towards the cosmos. The two telescopes have a 94-inch-diameter primary mirror, just like Hubble, but are shorter in focal length, giving them a wider field of view.
There is still a question of how much dark matter is near earth, with some scientists ranging estimates anywhere from .03 to .4 gigaelectron volt per cubic centimeter. Science 2.0 has a nice write up on our current understandings that’s worth a read.
In the meantime, it appears NASA seems to have been handed a nice break, something that’s been very rare for the organization that’s all but been privatized over the past several years, and wondering what exactly its place is in the national effort to expand our world outward.