TechnologyUpdate

Why is the Hubble Telescope in a Lower Earth Orbit?

If you’re wondering why the Hubble Telescope is in a lower Earth orbit, you’re not alone. A recent study concluded that the spacecraft’s location reflects its importance to the entire solar system. Hubble is a joint NASA-ESA project that was launched in 1990, and is currently orbiting the Earth at a distance of about 600 kilometers (370 miles). Due to its high resolution, Hubble is able to capture images at higher resolution than other telescopes, and it’s vantage point makes it possible to study celestial objects in a way that ground-based telescopes are not able to. It’s also possible to observe objects in the infrared and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum, which are not visible to the naked eye.

One major concern with Hubble’s low Earth orbit is its potential for destruction. Even though its mass is too large to burn up, it’s still too large to detach from its orbit without significant damage. In addition to that, fiery debris could land anywhere on Earth if it landed. That’s why NASA’s current plans for Hubble are essential for the mission’s survival.

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The Hubble Space Telescope currently circles the Earth at 353 miles, but this is not the permanent position. At some point, it will eventually de-orbit and fall into an even lower Earth orbit. In the meantime, it’s still in the middle of its technological lifespan. Without new technology and proper training, the telescope will likely crash to Earth in the mid-2030s or even later. If it’s not de-orbited, there may be no other option.

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