February 1, 2004

"booster configurations vary"

Jay Manifold speculates with the sort of speculations that go to my head like wine (or it could be the hot-chocolate-with-copious-dollop-of-rum that Charlene just made with the bain marie she recently scored for a mere frizzle on eBay) Speculation: Why not replace the Hubble Space Telescope with multiple small cheap space telescopes???

...I infer that a relatively simple space-based telescope should cost about 150 times as much as a ground-based amateur telescope of the same size. Grazing over to this page, I note -- after wiping the drool off my chin -- a price of $10,749 for a 25" 'scope. Once again applying the cube-of-aperture relationship, then multiplying by 150, I arrive at a figure of only $6.3 million for a 1-meter telescope in space.

Well, er, except for launch costs....

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...Notwithstanding that the above are approximate figures -- the asking price is rarely obtained in the current depressed launcher market, booster configurations vary, and performance varies significantly by orbital altitude and the latitude of the launch site -- we may reasonably expect to pay no more than $12 million for the launch. I note that one of the least expensive vehicles, the Dnepr, could launch several such telescopes at once if they could somehow be fit inside its payload fairing.

I conclude that less than $20 million could put us well on the way to launching one or more space telescopes before Hubble ceases operation. Compare perhaps half a billion dollars for the cancelled Hubble-maintenance Shuttle mission....

A small space telescope could still do the job of a much larger earth-based telescope. I have no idea how time on the Hubble is allocated, but I can feel confident that it isn't used for out-of-the mainstream projects. Sort of like the early mainframe computers´┐Żthere was no way to be playful or inventive with them.

Think of Jay's project as the equivalent of the coming of the mini-computer...

Posted by John Weidner at February 1, 2004 8:27 PM
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