Ars Technica's All hail the Ariane 5 rocket, which doubled the Webb telescope’s lifetime says:

Because ten years seemed like a fairly short operational period for such an expensive and capable space telescope, NASA had already been contemplating a costly and risky robotic refueling mission. But now that should not be necessary, as Webb has at least two decades of life.

I wonder if this is referring to water-cooler talk or some casual discussions, or if there was an official study and a document somewhere we can read.

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    $\begingroup$ Eric Berger wrote that article. His writing is typically excellent, and he has lots of connections throughout NASA. It would have been highly inappropriate for NASA to not have at least considered a robotic repair / refueling mission. Whether anyone outside NASA can get their hands on the trade studies is a different question. $\endgroup$ Jan 12 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ From 2020: "Ultimately, the JWST will carry enough hydrazine fuel to keep it functioning for up to 14 years with careful management. A team at Goddard is working on a robotic refueling mission that could further extend the observatory’s life." fastcompany.com/90471862/… No idea if this is a credible source $\endgroup$ Jan 12 at 2:41
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I'm imagining that folks at Goddard were sitting around reading Space SE one day and said "Hey, these guys think we should be working on a robotic refueling mission, the've even got robotic-missions and refueling tags!" I'm also imagining world peace and fusion powered laptops... $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 12 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ I'm picturing a filing cabinet filled with napkins that have been scribbled on in the cafeteria... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 12 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @SF. i very much think that is about what the "refueling" would look like. I doubt they will transfer actual fuel into the JWST but rather use the dockring to add a second propulsion device, as you suggested. $\endgroup$
    – Gewure
    Feb 19 at 6:34

1 Answer 1


NASA contemplates a lot of things. Eric Berger didn't specify how serious the thinking ever was or if it ever went beyond hallway conversations and occasional emails. NASA even has a category of documents called "pre-decisional" which are used when they are trying to make up their minds what to do. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that the thinking never got past that stage. And since NASA tends to keep pre-decisional documents in house if they can, I think its unlikely we'll ever see anything.


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