Spy Telescopes Could Advance U.S. Dark Energy Mission
The two telescopes were designed to gaze down upon Earth from space to collect intelligence. Now, NASA hopes to repurpose the instruments to study dark energy, extrasolar planets, and a host of other questions in astronomy.
The telescopes were originally supposed to be deployed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which manages the nation’s spy satellites, but were not needed. Last year, NRO offered the surplus instruments—each as big as the Hubble Space Telescope—as a gift to NASA. Over the past several months, NASA officials and a small group of astronomers have been developing a preliminary plan to use the telescopes as a component in the proposed Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, which was aimed at studying dark energy and exoplanets, but whose estimated price tag of $1.5 billion and NASA’s budget constraints had all but eliminated the possibility that NASA could pursue it before the mid-2020s. NRO’s gift has revived hope that WFIRST could become viable sooner.