In 2020, after over 17 years of service, the Spitzer Space Telescope was deactivated, left to drift in a heliocentric orbit until the Sun eventually expands and swallows it up. As the last of NASA’s “Great Observatories,” the Spitzer performed exceptionally well, delivering tons of data about our universe. A private company has a crazy plan to resurrect NASA’s Spitzer telescope, and it just might work.
NASA shut down Spitzer in 2020 after almost 20 years of service. The telescope was still working well when it was retired. However, it had run out of coolant. That made it impossible to use the telescope and collect data from it, at least without completely damaging the remaining instruments. So, it was shut down before it had told its entire story.
Now, though, Rhea Space Activity wants to resurrect NASA’s Spitzer telescope using a robotic rescue mission that could help make servicing long-distance spacecraft more manageable. Spitzer is currently two astronomical units away from Earth. An astronomical unit is defined as the distance of Earth from the Sun, so it’s pretty far away.
As such, this robotic mission from Rhea Space Agency is completely ridiculous and very ambitious. The possibility of pulling it off is low, but if the company can do it, it would set a new precedent for how we provide maintenance to those long-distance spacecraft, including the James Webb space telescope.
The mission is currently known as the “Spitzer Resurrector,” and it would basically be a small spacecraft that could fit into a 1-meter-by-1-meter box, Ars Technica reports. The hope is to have the mission ready to launch by 2026. It would then take roughly three years for the spacecraft to reach where the telescope is. But it won’t resurrect NASA’s Spitzer by working on the hardware.
Instead, the robotic spacecraft will fly around Spitzer at 50 to 100 km, completing an overview of the telescope’s health. From there, it will attempt to reestablish communications with the telescope. If successful, data from Spitzer can then be transferred through the robot back to Earth, allowing scientists to resume observations with the Great Observatory, effectively resurrecting NASA’s Spitzer telescope.
The project has serious backing, too, with the US Space Form granting $250,000 to the project and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Blue Sun Enterprises, Lockheed Martin, and the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory all backing the idea.