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SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch NASA’s Rome Space Telescope

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NASA has selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to launch its next large space telescope, a wide-angle observatory to directly complement the all-new James Webb Space Telescope.

Originally known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), NASA recently renamed the mission after Nancy Grace Roman, one of the founding forces behind the Hubble Space Telescope. It is only fitting that the basic design of the Roman Space Telescope resembles the Hubble telescope in many ways due to the fact that the mission exists solely because the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) decided to donate an unused multi-billion dollar spy satellite – a satellite that was actually a secret version of Hubble. facing the earth.

However, thanks to decades of improvements in the electronics, electromechanics and instrumentation of spacecraft and space telescopes, the RST will be significantly more capable than the Hubble telescope it looks like. And now, after several years of fighting for survival, the Roman Space Telescope officially goes into space – the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Falcon Heavy continues to be something of a paradox, winning contract after contract for increasingly costly flagship launches despite not launching in over three years. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point, as the large missions increasingly assigned to the Falcon Heavy are much more likely to run into significant delays on the spacecraft side. At some point in late 2021, for example, SpaceX five Falcon Heavy launches are tentatively scheduled for 2022 – all but one have already been delayed by months to a year or more. In the seven months leading up to 2022, none of these missions have been launched, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that the Falcon Heavy will be lucky enough to fly at all this year.

However, the Roman Space Telescope joins an impressive manifesto that includes the multi-billion dollar weather satellite GOES-U, about $5 billion worth of NASA’s Europa Clipper, two modules (HALO and PPE) of the orbital space station, the asteroid explorer Psyche NASA. , the large Astrobotic Griffin lander with NASA’s VIPER rover, two large geostationary communications satellites, and three missions for the US military. RST is the 11th rocket launch contract through the mid-2020s.

Despite similar resolution, the RST’s main wide field instrument will have a field of view 100 times larger than Hubble’s, meaning the new telescope will be able to collect quantities more data in the same time. Its main goals include measuring “the light from a billion galaxies over the lifetime of a mission” and performing a “microlens survey of the Milky Way’s interior to find some 2,600 exoplanets.” The second coronograph will “perform high-contrast imaging and spectroscopy of dozens of individual nearby exoplanets.” According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The coronagraph provides a critical stepping stone in the preparation of future missions aimed at [directly] image and characteristics of terrestrial planets [that are] 10 billion times fainter than their host star.”

According to NASA, “the telescope’s science program also includes special studies to address unresolved issues. [about the nature and] the effects of dark energy and dark matter, as well as a substantial general research program that allows further research into astrophysical phenomena to achieve other scientific goals.”

Because the RST is also focused on infrared wavelengths of light, it could be a great addition to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). While the RST is a wide-angle survey observatory whose goal is to observe and catalog billions of galaxies, stars and planets, the much larger JWST mirror is optimized for close-range observation of individual targets or deep study of tiny patches of the sky. Ultimately, RST can work like an MRI or CT scan for a JWST biopsy, telling the surgeon where to look, but only hinting at what they might find.

The ~$4.3 billion Falcon Heavy space telescope launch contract will cost an exceptionally high $255 million to send the spacecraft to the Sun-Earth Lagrange point about 800,000 kilometers (~500,000 miles) from Earth, according to NASA. . NASA’s contract to launch the even more expensive Europa Clipper spacecraft to Jupiter on a fully disposable Falcon Heavy rocket is expected to cost less than $180 million.

The NASA press release also claims that the RST will be ready for launch as early as October 2026. Another press release from September 2021 does not mention a target for 2026, only noting that RST is not scheduled to launch. after than in May 2027.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch NASA’s Rome Space Telescope







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