SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch NASA’s Roman space telescope

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch NASA’s Roman space telescope

NASA has chosen SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to launch its next large space telescope, a wide-field observatory that will directly complement the brand new James Webb space telescope.

Originally known as the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST), NASA recently renamed the mission in honor of Nancy Grace Roman, a fundamental force behind the Hubble Space Telescope. Fittingly, the basic design of the Roman Space Telescope is reminiscent of Hubble in many ways, due to the fact that the mission exists solely because the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) chose to donate an unused multi-billion dollar spy satellite – a satellite that was in fact a secret Earth. version of Hubble.

But thanks to decades of improvements in electronics, electromechanics and the instrumentation side of spacecraft and space telescopes, the RST will be dramatically more capable than the Hubble telescope it looks like. And now, after several years of struggling to survive, the Roman Space Telescope officially has a trip to space – SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

Falcon Heavy continues to be a bit of a paradox, winning contract after contract for ever higher value flagship launches despite not having launched once in more than three years. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, at this point, as the major missions that are increasingly entrusted to the Falcon Heavy are far more likely to have significant delays on the spacecraft’s side. At some point in late 2021, for example, SpaceX had five Falcon Heavy launches tentatively scheduled for 2022 – all but one had already been delayed several months to a year or more. Seven months into 2022, none of these missions have started, and it looks increasingly likely that Falcon Heavy will be lucky to fly at all this year.

Nevertheless, the Roman Space Telescope joins an impressive manifesto that includes the multi-billion dollar GOES-U space satellite, NASA’s Europe Clipper of approx. $ 5 billion, two modules (HALO and PPE) for a space station in orbit around the moon, NASA’s Psyche asteroid explorer, a large astrobatic Griffin lander with NASA’s VIPER Moon rover, two large geostationary communications satellites and three missions for the US military. RST is the rocket’s 11th launch contract between now and the middle of the 2020s.

Despite having a similar resolution, RST’s primary wide-field instrument will have a field of view 100 times larger than Hubble, which means that the new telescope will be able to assemble sizes more data at the same time. Its primary objectives include measuring “light from one billion galaxies during the mission’s lifetime” and performing “a microlens study of the Inner Milky Way to find ~ 2600 exoplanets.” A second coronation instrument will “perform high-contrast imaging and spectroscopy of dozens of individual nearby exoplanets.” According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “Coronagraph provides a crucial springboard in the preparation of future missions with a view to [directly] depict and characterize Earth-like planets [that are] 10 billion times weaker than their host star. “

According to NASA, “the telescope’s science program also includes dedicated surveys to address outstanding issues [about the nature and] effects of dark energy and dark matter, as well as a comprehensive general investigative program to enable further studies of astrophysical phenomena to advance other scientific goals. “

Because RST is also focused on infrared wavelengths of light, it can be an excellent companion to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). While RST is a wide-field survey observatory that aims to observe and catalog billions of galaxies, stars and planets, JWST’s much larger mirrors are optimized for close observation of individual targets or deep gazes into small skies. RST can eventually act a bit like an MRI or CAT scan for JWST’s biopsy, and tell the surgeon where to look, but only suggest what it can find.

According to NASA, the $ 4.3 billion space telescope’s Falcon Heavy launch contract will cost an exceptionally steep $ 255 million to send the spacecraft to the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point about 800,000 kilometers (~ 500,000 mi) from Earth. NASA’s contract to launch the even more expensive Europa Clipper spacecraft all the way to Jupiter with a fully usable Falcon Heavy rocket is expected to cost less than $ 180 million.

NASA’s press release also claims that RST will be ready for launch already in October 2026. Another press release from September 2021 did not mention the 2026 target and only noted that RST’s launch is planned no. later than May 2027.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch NASA’s Roman space telescope

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