They want to give it an exciting new job.
Play the Resurrector
Space startup Rhea Space Activity says it's received funding from the US Space Force to plan a mission to breathe new life into NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which has been orbiting the Sun in safe mode for three years following its retirement.
The startup's Spitzer Resurrector Mission involves sending a spacecraft to the telescope to service it — and eventually give it an exciting and entirely new job.
Spitzer has 16 years of infrared light observations under its belt, but was retired in early 2020 and later succeeded by the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021.
Instead of having it resume observations of the cosmos, the plan is to use it to detect potentially hazardous near-Earth objects instead.
In other words, the company is hoping to resurrect Spitzer to help us spot hazardous asteroids before it's too late, in a thrifty plan that would make use of powerful hardware that's already in orbit.
Reviving the retired space telescope won't be an easy feat. As of right now, it's circling the Sun at twice the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
There's also technically no way for NASA to get in touch with the telescope, meaning that Rhea would have to visit it with the help of a servicing spacecraft.
Fortunately, the startup has plenty of well-established partners to help it realize its visions, including the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
"This would be the most complex robotic mission ever performed by humanity," said Shawn Usman, astrophysicist and CEO of Rhea, in a statement. "As a teenager in the 1990s, I watched US astronauts repair the first Great Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, and now Rhea Space Activity has been given the opportunity to telerobotically extend the life of the last Great Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope."
The startup is hoping to launch its mission by 2026 — if everything goes according to plan, which is no guarantee given the complexities involved.
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