Thursday, June 14, 2012

Repurposing a Spy Satellite

On June 4, NASA announced that they have acquired two spy satellites from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The satellites include extremely high quality telescopes with 2.4 meter collection mirrors - the same size as Hubble, and much better quality. For reference, that kind of light-collection power would allow you to see a dime on top of the Washington Monument (or what Kim Jong-un is eating for dinner). The donation is a windfall to NASA's cash-strapped astronomical research program, which will likely turn the impressive optics towards space in the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) project to hunt for dark energy, IF, that is, they can scrape up enough money to launch and commission one of the telescopes. That kind of money may not be available for several years.
The donated satellites have better quality
optics than the Hubble telescope.

It's nice to see where our national priorities lie - as NASA's Planetary Science department literally holds bake sales to raise money and awareness about budget cuts (Obama's 2013 budget cuts 21% from NASA's planetary-science budget, and 38% from its Mars projects,) the NRO has two Hubbles lying around, collecting dust. Of course, we must remember that the NRO deals with very, very important issues of national security, whereas NASA is just playing around with trivial matters of casual public interest, like investigating the mysterious energy that permeates space and accounts for 73% of all matter in the universe.

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