The telescopes came from the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), a hybrid intelligence agency staffed by members of the military, the CIA and civilian personnel from the Defense Department.
Fulfilling its vision of "Vigilance from above", the agency works on innovative overhead intelligence systems for national security. It's the military spy agency looking down on the world that not many people are aware of.
Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post
was the first to report the NRO had given the two "exquisite" flight-qualified telescopes — which it didn't need anymore — to NASA just over a week ago:
The telescopes have 2.4-meter (7.9-foot) mirrors, just like the Hubble, but they have 100 times the field of view. Their structure is shorter and squatter.
They’re “space qualified,” as NASA puts it, but they’re a long way from being functioning space telescopes. They have no instruments — there are no cameras, for example. More than that, they lack a funded mission and all that entails, such as a scientific program, support staff, data analysis and office space. They will remain in storage while NASA mulls its options.
"It’s great news," said NASA astrophysics director Paul Hertz. "It’s real hardware, and it’s got really impressive capabilities."