NASA has chosen SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch its next major space telescope, a wide-field observatory that should directly complement the 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, the founding force behind the Hubble Space Telescope. Fittingly, the basic design of the Roman Space Telescope is reminiscent of Hubble in many ways, given the fact that the mission exists only because the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) chose to donate a multibillion-dollar unused spy satellite—a satellite that was effectively a classified Earth-facing version of Hubble.
However, thanks to decades of improvements in the electronics, electromechanical, and instrumentation aspect of spacecraft and space telescopes, the RST will be significantly more capable than the Hubble telescope that resembles it. And now, after several years of struggling for survival, the Roman Space Telescope is officially on a journey into space – SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
The Falcon Heavy continues to be a bit of a paradox, winning contract after decade to launch an increasingly high-value flagship despite not launching once in more than three years. It’s a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy, at this point, as major missions increasingly being entrusted to the Falcon Heavy are likely to encounter significant delays on the spacecraft side. Sometime in late 2021, for example, SpaceX had five The launch of the Falcon Heavy is initially planned for 2022 – all but one have already been delayed by several months to a year or more. Seven months into 2022, none of these missions have launched and it seems increasingly likely that the Falcon Heavy will be lucky to fly all this year.
However, the Romanian space telescope joins an impressive statement that includes the multi-billion dollar GOES-U weather satellite, NASA’s Europa Clipper, two modules (HALO and PPE) for a lunar orbiting space station, Psyche’s asteroid explorer. to NASA. , a large Astrobotic Griffin lander carrying NASA’s Fiber Moon, two large geostationary communications satellites, and three US Army missions. RST is the rocket’s eleventh launch contract between now and mid-2020.
Despite having similar resolving power, RST’s initial wide-field instrument will have a field of view 100 times larger than Hubble, which means the new telescope will be able to assemble Ingredients More data at a similar time. that it Primary Objectives They include measuring “light from a billion galaxies over the lifetime of the mission” and performing a “lens micro-scan of the inner Milky Way to find about 2,600 exoplanets.” A second instrument in the form of a corona will “perform high-contrast imaging and spectroscopic analysis of dozens of nearby exoplanets.” according to Jet Propulsion LaboratoryCoronagraph provides a critical starting point in preparation for future missions aimed at [directly] It depicts and distinguishes Earth-like planets [that are] 10 billion times dimmer than their host star.”
According to NASA, “The telescope science program also includes dedicated probes to address outstanding questions [about the nature and] The effects of dark energy and dark matter, as well as a large public investigator program to enable further studies of astrophysical phenomena to advance other scientific goals.”
Because the RST also focuses on the infrared wavelengths of light, it could be an excellent companion to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). While the RST is a wide-field survey observatory aimed at observing and classifying billions of galaxies, stars and planets, the larger JWST mirror is optimal for close-up observation of single targets or deep gazes into small expanses of sky. The RST can eventually work like an MRI or CT scan of a JWST biopsy, telling the surgeon where to look but only indicating what he might find.
According to NASA, the $4.3 billion Falcon Heavy launch contract for the space telescope will cost an exceptional $255 million to send the spacecraft to the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point 800,000 kilometers (~500,000 miles) from Earth. NASA contract To launch the more expensive Europa Clipper spacecraft all the way to Jupiter with a fully expendable Falcon Heavy rocket, it is expected to cost less than $180 million.
NASA agency press release It also claims that RST will be ready for launch as early as October 2026. Various press release As of September 2021 it did not mention the 2026 target and only indicated that the launch of the RST is scheduled for no Later From May 2027.
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