NASA selects Falcon Heavy to launch Roman Space Telescope

WASHINGTON — NASA has chosen SpaceX to launch the Nancy Grace Roman House Telescope on a Falcon Heavy, however at a worth considerably larger than most earlier company contracts.

NASA introduced July 19 that it awarded a contract to SpaceX to launch Roman on the corporate’s Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2026 from the Kennedy House Heart in Florida. The contract is valued at $255 million for the launch and different mission-related prices.

Roman is the subsequent giant, or flagship, astrophysics mission after the James Webb House Telescope. The spacecraft incorporates a 2.4-meter major mirror, donated to NASA a decade in the past by the Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace, with a large discipline instrument and a coronagraph to conduct analysis in cosmology, exoplanets and normal astrophysics.

The spacecraft, with a mass of about 4,200 kilograms, will function from the Earth-sun L-2 Lagrange level, a area of house about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth within the route away from the solar. That’s the identical location that JWST and several other different astrophysics missions function.

The worth of the launch contract is way larger than most earlier NASA awards for Falcon Heavy missions. NASA awarded SpaceX a contract a yr in the past for a Falcon Heavy launch of the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter in 2024 valued at $178 million. A September 2021 contract for the Falcon Heavy launch of the GOES-U climate satellite tv for pc, additionally in 2024, is value $152.5 million.

SpaceX gives the Falcon Heavy at a business listing worth of $97 million. The corporate elevated that worth earlier this yr from $90 million, citing “extreme ranges of inflation.”

SpaceX could have had no competitors for the Roman launch. Tory Bruno, chief government of United Launch Alliance, tweeted in February that his firm was not bidding on the launch. His firm’s Vulcan Centaur has but to make its first launch. Blue Origin’s New Glenn additionally has but to launch.

Roman is a key mission for NASA not only for science but in addition program administration. Beforehand referred to as the Vast Discipline Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), the mission is the highest precedence flagship mission from the 2010 astrophysics decadal survey. The latest decadal survey, printed in November 2021, concluded Roman “stays each highly effective and obligatory for attaining the scientific objectives” set forth within the earlier survey.

Regardless of early challenges and several other company price range proposals that sought to terminate the mission, Roman has continued growth. Final yr, although, the mission suffered a seven-month launch delay and $382 million price improve that the company blamed on the results of pandemic. The mission now has a complete lifecycle price of $4.32 billion.

A Authorities Accountability Workplace evaluation of main NASA packages printed in June warned of the potential for additional delays in Roman, citing points with the spacecraft’s major mirror meeting and restraint launch actuators.

Protecting Roman on schedule and inside price range is crucial, company officers mentioned, to construct up confidence that it could handle giant science missions after the numerous price and schedule overruns with JWST. Solely then, they argue, can NASA pursue giant house telescopes like these endorsed by the most recent astrophysics decadal survey, reminiscent of a six-meter house telescope for observations in optical, ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths.

“Primary on the precedence listing is to guarantee that the Roman House Telescope is delivered inside our price and schedule commitments,” Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, mentioned at a gathering of the American Astronomical Society in June.

“Until NASA can present that we’ve got discovered classes from the errors that have been made within the administration of the James Webb House Telescope program and we are able to present that we are able to apply these classes to a different very costly, very troublesome nice observatory, just like the Nancy Grace Roman House Telescope, no one will take us significantly,” he argued.

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