A U.S. Spy Agency’s Leftover, Hubble-Sized Satellite Could Be on Its Way to Mars | Smart News | Smithsonian
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A U.S. Spy Agency’s Leftover, Hubble-Sized Satellite Could Be on Its Way to Mars

What do you do with a spare world-class satellite?

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The Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA

Last year the National Reconnaissance Office—the U.S. government’s spy satellite program—surprised the world when it let on that it had two unwanted, Hubble-sized spy satellites just sort of sitting around. The Hubble Space Telescope, the great eye in the sky that has given us some of the best photographs in the universe, has a 7.9 foot-wide mirror. The NRO’s two leftover spy satellites also had 7.9 foot-wide mirrors. For satellites, the bigger the mirror the more detail in the photo.

Where Hubble was designed to look off into space, the spy satellites were meant to look down at us. Some rough calculations by UNC-Charlotte associate professor Greg Gbur (otherwise known as Dr Skyksull) let us known that this telescope would be able to see things that are just 5 inches across. With some computer processing, you could probably pick out things on the ground that are just 2.5 inches wide. From space.

But, the spy agency doesn’t want these satellites anymore, so they gave them to NASA. For the better part of a year, says Astronomy Now, NASA has been trying to figure out what exactly to do with these new satellites. Now, says Space.com, the idea is being floated that one of the satellites could be shipped to Mars.

Scientists have proposed sending one of the powerful telescopes to Mars orbit, where it could look both up and down, giving researchers great views of the Red Planet’s surface as well as targets in the outer solar system and beyond.

From orbit around Mars, says Space.com, researchers expect the satellite would be able to take photos that capture around 3.1 inches of the Red Planet per pixel. Such high-resolution imagery could help them build maps and study the planet in unprecedented detail.

But that’s just one possible future for the NRO’s leftover satellites. NASA might also use them to hunt for dark energy or search for exoplanets. Or use them for any one of a number of other projects. Trust us, NASA has plenty of ideas for what to do with two gigantic satellites.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Hubble Space Telescope’s Finest Photos

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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