Two satellites, formerly owned by the National Reconnaissance Office (who operate all of the US spy satellites), have been given to NASA for use. The satellites, which are approximately the same size as the Hubble Telescope, are to be reconfigured so that instead of staring down at Earth, they will look out into the cosmos.
According to an article in the New York Times, former astronaut and physicist John Grunsfeld was contacted by the NRO who thought the space administration would be able to use the ‘spare’ satellites. After debating what they could be used for, Grunsfeld, with a small band of astronomers, decided that they could be redesigned to look into the stars and investigate dark energy – the process that is theoretically speeding up the universe’s expansion.
The plan, which was presented this week to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, will save hundreds of millions of dollars and several years off a project that has been deemed as one of the “most fundamental of our time”.
Currently the two satellites, dubbed NRO-1 and NRO-2, are still being assembled, but their optics are said to be among the most advanced seen by the scientists. Grunsfeld even comments that although the telescope is in pieces, he can’t determine what the optics might have been used for. The NRO have been tight-lipped saying in a statement: “This is not something we’re going to talk about,” adding, “We’re hoping this becomes a NASA story.”
By investigating dark energy, the NASA team hoped to unravel the fate of the universe as well as gain futher insight into the nature of physics. Previous projects have been hampered by costs, but Grunsfeld believes that the adjustment of the exisiting telescopes is the answer they were looking for – especially as it is a fraction of previous costs.