U.S. spy agency gives NASA two Hubble-quality telescopes

NASA plans to use them for the study of dark energy, but it could take years to prepare them for orbit

Two powerful spy telescopes built for the U.S. intelligence agency National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) will be used for a completely different purpose than originally intended. Given to NASA by the NRO, these Hubble-quality telescopes will be repurposed to be used not for covert surveillance operations, but for the study of dark energy.

NRO spokesperson Loretta DeSio said the telescopes have 7.9-foot mirrors like Hubble, but they use “newer, much lighter mirror and structure technology.” Right now, the two agencies refuse to divulge much information, and most details are kept under wraps. According to The Washington Post, the telescopes could be tweaked versions of KH-11 Kennan reconnaissance satellites that NRO has been using since 1976.

The telescopes, NASA decided recently, will be used for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) project. They will monitor and look for stellar explosions called supernovae that could shed light on the mystery of dark energy — a term for the hypothetical energy-fluid that fills up space and accelerates the expansion of the universe.

NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz said the NRO telescopes have “really impressive capabilities,” but it could take the space agency a lot of time — and a lot of money that it doesn’t have — to prepare them for launch. The telescopes still need to be fitted with cameras and other equipment, and NASA has to hire a ground team of engineers and scientists to run the project. As the space agency is using a huge chunk of its funds to build Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Telescope, until it launches in six years, scientists believe the ex-spy telescopes will not be ready for orbit until 2020.

[Image credit: NASA]


This article was written by Mariella Moon and originally appeared on Tecca

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