NASA has signed a Space Act agreement which turns the nine-year-old, $150-million Galaxy Evolution Explorer (Galex) ultraviolet space telescope over to the California Institute of Technology. Caltech will raise money from various sources to put the telescope back into operation.

Committed funders are the Keck Institute of Space Studies, a consortium of Israeli universities led by the Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv, Cornell University, and an international consortium that goes by the unwieldy name of GAMA/Herschel-Atlas/DINGO. Caltech is seeking additional funds from private donors, philanthropic foundations, and corporate sponsors.

If this Space Act is successful, it might provide a model for other space telescopes such as Hubble, which NASA plans to decommission in a few years. NASA plans to replace Hubble with the James Webb Space Telescope, but Webb is designed primarily for observations in the infrared, rather than visible wavelengths. There is likely to be some unhappiness when the public realizes that the visible-light images, which have made Hubble so popular, will be coming to an end. With the advent of low-cost launch and space servicing, it might be possible to keep space observatories like Hubble operational indefinitely. The question is, will the low-cost revolution come soon enough, or will Hubble be deorbited before it arrives, much as Skylab came down while waiting for the Shuttle to become operational?

Written by Astro1 on May 16th, 2012 , Astronomy

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