NASA could use a donated spy satellite telescope to carry out a high-priority mission that would hunt for alien planets and mysterious dark energy, a new report found.
Not only would one of two donated U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) telescopes suit the mission of NASA’s proposed Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) — it would boost the mission’s capabilities without much exceeding its expected $1.63 billion budget…
“For approximately the same cost … the use of these telescope assets would enable a WFIRST mission that has significantly improved scientific capabilities,” Paul Hertz, the director of the astrophysics division of NASA’s science mission directorate, said
Using the Hubble-like optics for an infrared mission makes sense – that eliminates some of the risk from the optics sitting in storage as opposed to using it for ultraviolet astronomy. (The shorter the wavelength, the greater the effect of contamination, whether molecular or particulate.) NRO expressly forbade NASA from using the gift telescopes for Earth observation, but one of the options considered was research of Earth’s upper atmosphere.
With Kepler’s problems with reaction wheels, the other donated spy satellite may end up as a planet-finder. Hopefully they will be put to good use.