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Detector array delivered for Roman Space Telescope

A plate cover is installed over the detector array for NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope by Principal Technician Billy Keim. Credit: NASA / Chris Gunn

A plate cover is installed over the detector array for NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope by Principal Technician Billy Keim. Credit: NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s primary instrument is set to receive its Focal Plane System, what NASA calls the “heart” of the observatory.

Built in Greenbelt, Maryland, by engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the FPS was delivered to Ball Aerospace in Colorado to be integrated into the Wide Field Instrument. WFI is the main camera for the telescope, which has a 7.9-foot (2.4 meter) wide field of view mirror to collect infrared light, as well as some visible light.

“Roman’s focal plane array is one of the biggest that has ever flown onboard a space-based observatory,” Mary Walker, the Roman WFI manager at Goddard, said in a May 16 NASA news release. “Its creation is the product of many years of innovation from a very dedicated team – one that is eagerly anticipating the incredible science Roman will yield.”

FPS has 18 detectors, each with some 16.8 million pixels, to provide high resolution images in order to study dark matter, dark energy, search for exoplanets and more, according to NASA. After being installed in the WFI, the primary instrument will get radiators to shed any excess heat from electronics.

“For optimal performance, the detectors must be operated at minus 288 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 178 degrees Celsius,” Greg Mosby, a research astrophysicist and Roman detector scientist at Goddard, in NASA’s news release. “Roman’s detectors are so sensitive that nearby components in the Wide Field Instrument must also be cooled, otherwise their heat would saturate the detectors, effectively blinding the observatory.”

NASA expects the WFI to be ready for thermal vacuum tests this summer, after which it will be sent to Goddard in the spring of 2024 for integration into the Roman telescope itself.

The 9,184-pound (4,166-kilogram) Roman telescope is scheduled to launch atop a Falcon Heavy rocket in May 2027. It will be delivered to a halo orbit around the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point roughly 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth on its opposite side from the Sun. While its primary mirror is the same size as NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, its wide field of view covers an area 100 times larger. The observatory’s primary mission is expected to be about five years.

Video courtesy of NASA


Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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