We all know about the FBI and the CIA, but you might not be as familiar with the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency responsible for our spy satellites. The NRO apparently has more of these things than it knows what to do with, and it's decided to donate two Hubble-sized spy sats to NASA to play with.
What NASA is actually getting are two new-in-box space telescopes (rather dully named NRO-1 and NRO-2), each with an eight-foot mirror just like Hubble has. While Hubble was intended to look at stars and galaxies and stuff, the NRO's space telescopes were intended to look at you: these things would be capable of spotting a dime on the ground from orbit. What this means, though, is that their optics have been adjusted to look at things that are (relatively) close instead of things that are far away, leading astronomers to nickname them "Stubby Hubbles."
Unfortunately, these telescopes aren't up in space ready for NASA to take over and start doing science with. Instead, they're in a warehouse. In Rochester. In pieces. And missing some important stuff like pointing controls and solar panels and sensors. But the optics are there, and that's one of the most difficult and expensive parts, which is why NASA is still pretty excited about the whole thing. Or, maybe it would be better to say that NASA is cautiously optimistic, since it still needs to somehow find the money to outfit one of these babies and send it up to space, even if having most of the hardware already does save several hundred million dollars.
The mission that NASA has in mind for these telescopes is to study dark energy, and they're perfect for the task. Like, don't change a thing this is better than what anyone had hoped for perfect. NASA has been trying to put together money for a wide-field infrared survey telescope for decades in order to figure out the nature of dark energy, but the agency has never been able to make it happen. Now, if it can get funding to fix up and launch one of these existing telescopes, it would provide a better infrared survey platform than NASA had pictured in its wildest dreams, enabling a cheaper launch and quadruple the data collection speed. As one of the astronomers puts it, "when someone hands you a hand-me-down like that you have to be excited. They're not sitting around at Wal-Mart."
Obviously, we need some bigger Wal-Marts.
The other thing that this makes us wonder about is if the NRO has a couple of these Hubble-sized telescopes just lying around in a warehouse, so useless that the agency isn't even bothering to keep them as spares to say nothing of keeping them a secret, what does that imply about what the NRO has up in space right now? Feel free to use your imagination on that one, but our guess is that your imagination falls well short of reality.