NASA chose SpaceX to launch the Webb’s future friend

NASA has just confirmed that SpaceX will be responsible for launching the future partner of the James Webb around 2026.

For the past few weeks, all specialists and astronomy lovers around the world have had eyes only for the James Webb SPace Telescope. Since NASA unveiled its first scientific contributions, we have been able to feast on sumptuous images of Stephan’s Quintet, Carina Nebula, or Southern Ring Nebula, to name but a few.

In this context, it would be easy to forget that NASA still has other ideas in mind when it comes to telescopes. And it’s going to start with the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope — or just “Roman” — a new, state-of-the-art observatory that will come to support the JWST in the next few years.

Who is Nancy Grace Roman?

The agency does not baptize these machines at random; it’s an honor that has to be earned, and like Hubble or the Webb, they traditionally inherit the surname of a great scientist. This one will be no exception. ” Novel is the surname of a scientist among the most illustrious of his time, but unjustly unknown to the general public.

Within NASA of the last century, at a time when women were often relegated to secondary positions, she is one of the few female figures who managed to climb the ranks of the institution. She distinguished herself by her stubbornness and outspokenness which allowed her to stand up to the institutional machismo of the time. Throughout her career, she has multiplied conferences and other initiatives to defend the role of women in science and engineering.

© NASA/ESA

But beyond this already very important contribution, it is for another reason that his name has passed to posterity; She is now recognized as the ” mother of hubble ”, because of its decisive influence on the progress of the most famous of telescopes.

Suffice to say that she left behind an absolutely colossal scientific legacy when she died in 2018. This outstanding figure deserved much better than an anecdotal place in the history of astronomy. She will finally be entitled to this consecration with the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope.

What will the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope be used for?

Like the James Webb, the Roman will work with infrared radiation. He will therefore also be able to search for and photograph exoplanets; tracking down “Alternate Earths” will be one of his most important missions. He will also observe a large number of fascinating astrophysical phenomena, for example those related to life cycle of stars.

But it will focus above all on the study of two elements that are still particularly mysterious and exhilarating for astronomers: dark matter and dark energy — the mysterious force that, according to physicists, is accelerating the expansion of the universe.

To achieve this, it will be equipped with two main instruments. The first, soberly baptized Wide Field Instrument, will make it possible to observe large portions of the sky in record time. The second is a coronagraph, an instrument which reproduces an eclipse of a star by masking its center in order to be able to observe its corona.

An example of a stellar corona that the Roman will seek to photograph. © Luc Viatour – Wikimedia Commons

When and how will it come into service?

NASA recently announced that it had selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch this category-one mission. At present, the departure of the Roman is scheduled for October 2026.

As always in aerospace, this date must be taken with a grain of salt. This is all the more true as the machine has already accumulated a considerable delay; at present, it has already cost about $4.3 billion to NASA.

But Mark Clampin, a recognized specialist who will head NASA’s Astrophysics Division on August 15, do everything possible to meet this deadline. For the moment, the interested party is still at the head of the Directorate of Science and Exploration of the illustrious Goddard center. But he has already announced that the future telescope will be his absolute priority as soon as he takes office.

For me, challenge number 1 will be to keep the Roman on track. “, he explained. He also made it clear that he intended to deploy considerable resources to anticipate as many technical problems as possible which generally slow down this process. It remains to be seen whether this ambition will be fulfilled; until then, all that remains is to enjoy the exceptional images that the JWST is already producing at a maddening rate (see our article).

Leave a Comment