NASA announced today that it has contracted SpaceX to launch its new Roman Space Telescope.
Now in development, it will go skywards between October 2026 and May 2027 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. SpaceX will make $255 million from the contract.
What is the Roman Space Telescope?
In some ways the Roman Space Telescope is a successor to Hubble, with a primary mirror measuring 2.4-meters—the same size as Hubble’s.
However, Roman will have a huge field of view, with its wide-angle lens able to see an area of the sky about 100 times larger than what Hubble can see.
It’s expected to cost between $3.2 billion and $3.9 billion.
What will the Roman Space Telescope do?
Roman will undertake a “Galactic Exoplanet Survey” designed to find Earth-like exoplanets and also help astronomers understand how the universe expands.
Its wide-angle lens will help it map the Milky Way and other galaxies 100 times faster than Hubble and allow astronomers to see the environments around galaxies in the early universe.
It will also investigate dark matter and dark energy—modern astronomy’s greatest mysteries—and look for Earth-like exoplanets.
In fact, Roman is expected to find thousands of exoplanets, including more “rogue” planets than there are stars in the Milky Way—at least 100 billion! It will do that using an incredible technique called gravitational microlensing.
What is microlensing?
Microlensing is what Roman is all about—it’s what makes it a unique and special space telescope. It will allow astronomers to find new types of exoplanets thousands of light years from Earth orbiting stars near the center of the Milky Way.
The technique is similar to how Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity was proven during a total solar eclipse in 1919. Its incredible sensitivity will allow it to detect when the gravity of stars and planets bend and magnify the light coming from stars that pass behind them from the telescope’s point of view.
Who is the Roman Space Telescope named after?
Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, an American astronomer who spent 21 years at NASA, died in 2018 . She’s known as a the “mother of Hubble” and recognised for making the concept of the space telescope a reality. In the mid-1960s she headed-up a committee of astronomers and engineers to work on ideas for a space telescope and convinced both NASA and the U.S. Congress that a powerful space telescope should be a science priority.
The Roman Space Telescope was formerly known as the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST).
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.