In 2020, the Spitzer Space Telescope concluded its remarkable 17-year journey, as NASA made the difficult decision to deactivate it, allowing it to wander in a heliocentric orbit until its eventual demise in the expanding Sun. As the final member of NASA’s esteemed “Great Observatories,” Spitzer made extraordinary contributions by uncovering vast amounts of data about our universe. Now, an audacious plan conceived by a private company could resurrect this legendary telescope, defying the odds and offering a glimmer of hope.
After serving NASA diligently for almost two decades, Spitzer gracefully retired in 2020. Despite its impeccable performance, the telescope was forced into retirement due to the depletion of its coolant supply, rendering it incapable of capturing new data without compromising its remaining instruments. As a result, the curtain fell prematurely on its cosmic narrative.
However, an enterprising entity known as Rhea Space Activity has hatched an ambitious scheme to revive NASA’s Spitzer telescope through a daring robotic rescue mission. This audacious endeavor not only holds the promise of resurrecting a valuable scientific asset but also has the potential to pave the way for more feasible servicing of long-distance spacecraft. Currently positioned at a staggering two astronomical units away from Earth—a measurement based on the distance between our planet and the Sun—Spitzer’s present location is undeniably distant, challenging the conventional limits of space exploration.
The endeavor undertaken by Rhea Space Agency to resurrect NASA’s Spitzer telescope through a robotic mission may seem highly ambitious and even implausible. Nevertheless, if the company manages to achieve this feat, it would establish an unprecedented precedent for servicing long-distance spacecraft, presenting exciting possibilities for future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope.
Dubbed the “Spitzer Resurrector,” the current concept for the mission involves deploying a compact spacecraft, fitting snugly within a 1-meter-by-1-meter enclosure, as reported by Ars Technica. The goal is to have this mission ready for launch by 2026, with an estimated travel time of approximately three years to reach Spitzer’s location. However, the resurrection process will not involve physical repairs to the telescope’s hardware.
Instead, the robotic spacecraft will navigate around Spitzer at a distance of 50 to 100 km, conducting a comprehensive assessment of the telescope’s condition. Its primary objective will be to reestablish communication with Spitzer, striving to establish a vital link that would enable the transfer of data from the telescope to Earth. If successful, scientists would once again have access to the treasure trove of observations captured by the Great Observatory, effectively resurrecting NASA’s Spitzer telescope.
Significantly, this ambitious project has garnered substantial support. The US Space Form has granted $250,000 to aid the endeavor, while esteemed institutions such as the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Blue Sun Enterprises, Lockheed Martin, and the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have all expressed their endorsement of this groundbreaking idea.