NASA is already assembling its next big space telescope, the Nancy Grace Roman

Eric Bottlaender

Space specialist

February 08, 2023 at 12:35 p.m.


Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope NGR NASA © NASA

Artist’s impression of the NGR telescope © NASA

The take-off scheduled before May 2027 still seems remote, but this year is very important to gather the main elements before testing them. Long in the shadow of James Webb, the NGR will be an impressive machine for studying the universe! Beware of handling in the clean room…

Its two instrumental suites should in turn offer revolutionary results.

It’s a beautiful novel, it’s a beautiful story

The launch of the James Webb Telescope is still in many memories, but for NASA, it is already time to think about the assembly of the next space telescope. Indeed, in the field, the years pass quickly, very quickly…

For the Nancy Grace Roman (or NGR) telescope, the race is already on. This new gem, which will operate in the visible and near infrared, uses a very impressive mirror 2.4 meters in diameter. Like Hubble, but with a much wider field of observation. This mirror is the origin of the design of the telescope (it’s even a donation from the US Department of Defense following a canceled spy satellite project).

However, the assembly with the secondary mirror and the optical structure took place only a few weeks ago. This is an opportunity to discover some impressive photographs. And if the teams recall that they have scrupulously tested the performance of their optical assembly, it is no coincidence: Hubble, precisely, suffered from a deformation of its primary mirror when it was launched.

Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope NGR optical part © NASA/L3Harris

It’s not the James Webb, but a central mirror 2.4 meters in diameter, it’s a nice piece! ©NASA/L3Harris

Finish the Novel, we know the end

The Nancy Grace Roman’s launch schedule makes it look like there’s plenty of headroom before it lifts off with Falcon Heavy, scheduled for sometime between October 2026 and May 2027 (the “latest” date). Its two scientific instruments, the wide-field and high-resolution sensor WFI, and the high-performance coronagraph CGI (which will specialize in the detection and study of exoplanets), are already in the final stages of assembly and testing. The telescope’s wide-gain antenna, which will have to transmit images and measurements at 500 Mb/s from the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point 1.5 million kilometers from our planet, has also successfully passed its tests. With 1.7 meters in diameter, it weighs less than 11 kg!

The assembly of elements and sets will continue this year. Once completed, the three major blocks (optics, instruments and satellite part) will first be tested in isolation for months before being brought together for another full campaign. Mechanically, the NGR is much simpler than its cousin, the James Webb, but no question of skipping rigorous testing.

Some of the best images of galaxies over the next few decades will pass through this antenna © NASA

The era of Romanesque art

Initially named WFIRST (Wide Field InfraRed Space Telescope), the Nancy Grace Roman should enable new astronomical advances over the coming decade. It will also be a kind of “Hubble successor”, even if, like the James Webb, it does not cover such a wide light spectrum. Its sensors will in particular highlight the clouds of stars inside and on the periphery of galaxies, better identify them and, in parallel, study dark matter and dark energy with other telescopes such as Euclid. Without forgetting, with its coronagraph, great ambitions to better understand and study exoplanets.

Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope NGR NASA optical wheel © NASA

The wheel with the optical filters of the wide field WFI instrument. A marvel of precision… © NASA

Almost paradoxically, it is the telescope “after” the NGR that is still not very advanced, major projects such as LUVOIR being only at the proposal stage.

Source : NASA

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