Pentagon Donates 2 Better-Than-Hubble Telescopes to NASA

NASA was in need of new telescopes and got a helping hand from their good pals at the DoD.

NASA was in need of new telescopes and got a helping hand from their good pals at the DoD.

WaPo (“NASA gets two military spy telescopes for astronomy“):

The U.S. government’s secret space program has decided to give NASA two telescopes as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be used to study the heavens.

They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble, according to David Spergel, a Princeton astrophysicist and co-chair of the National Academies advisory panel on astronomy and astrophysics.

The surprise announcement Monday is a reminder that NASA isn’t the only space enterprise in the government — and isn’t even the best funded.

The Atlantic’s Alex Madrigal (“Hey, Brother, Can You Spare a Hubble? DOD: Sure! Have Two“) thinks this somewhat odd.

  • First, hooray! NASA needs all the help it can get, especially around its scientific missions, which get dwarfed by the space-travel components of its work. Plus, Hubble’s quality is going to start deteriorating in the coming years, so these are nice to have.
  • Second, if the DOD didn’t need these two birds, which are both better than any civilian telescope, what *do* they have? Are drones replacing space telescopes? Are there much better telescopes already up there?
  • Third, how did this happen? Were two satellite scientists out at brunch and the military lady turns to the civilian guy and says, “You know, we have a couple telescopes in the shop, if you guys need them.”

Presumably, the fact that NASA is headed up by a former Marine two-star helps explain the last question. The others are interesting, given that one can supposedly “see a dime sitting on top of the Washington Monument” with a Hubble. But we’re talking about the people who want better fighter jets just in case some country manages to leapfrog two generations and gain an advantage.

I gather Alex thinks our spending priorities are a bit out of whack. But, really, what has NASA ever done for us?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. So the Pentagon has at least two better-than-Hubble telescopes? I think we can all assume these devices are not pointed out toward the heavens when they’re put in orbit.

  2. Dustin says:

    But, really, what has NASA ever done for us?

    I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt on this being hard to detect sarcasm.

  3. Rob in CT says:

    On the one hand, it’s kinda crazy that the DoD’s sloppy seconds outclass the Hubble. But then the Hubble’s getting old.

    And yeah, imagine what DoD is using now.

  4. Andy says:

    Well, the telescopes aren’t even finished yet, and are sitting in clean rooms in Massachusetts.

    I would not be surprised at all if they are the remnants of this failed program.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    This is a prime example of a bloated DOD budget.

  6. Brett says:

    My guess is that the Pentagon has got both better surveillance satellites than those, plus all those really high-flying surveillance drones.

  7. James in LA says:

    Build an inferometer into them and send them up!