The two space telescopes that the secretive National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has given to NASA are likely to remain grounded for the foreseeable future. A satellite incorporating one of the surplus spy telescopes will cost NASA between $1 billion and $2 billion to build and launch, according to Michael Moore, acting deputy director of NASA’s astrophysics division. That’s money the agency doesn’t expect to be able to find for years to come.

Each of the telescopes “would have cost us around $250 million,” Moore told reporters on 5 June. The optical components are “essentially perfect,” he said, with performance comparable to that of the Hubble Space Telescope but with a field of view up to 100 times greater. “We arguably could have produced these, but we didn’t have the scientific drive in that particular direction,” he noted.

The wide-angle feature makes the NRO telescopes well suited to become the major...

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