NASA tapped SpaceX to launch its next major space telescope, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, on a Falcon Heavy rocket. The launch is tentatively scheduled for October 2026.
The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will help scientists study dark matter and dark energy, which theoretically makes up 95% of the known universe. This type of matter and energy are called “dark” because they don’t interact with the electromagnetic spectrum like more familiar forms of matter and energy do. They can’t be detected by ordinary telescopes, for instance, because they don’t emit or reflect light like “normal” matter does.
The new space telescope will also help image exoplanets with its Wide-Field Instrument and Coronagraphic Instrument. With the ability to filter out direct light from the target star, it will be able to image “hot Jupiters” — planets that are Jupiter-sized or bigger that orbit close to their host stars.
This space telescope was originally named the Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST). It was renamed in honor of NASA’s first Chief Astronomer, Nancy Grace Roman. During her tenure at NASA during the 1960s and 1970s, Nancy Grace Roman became instrumental in making the iconic Hubble Space Telescope a reality.
NASA released a simple, yet entertaining, eight-bit game in honor of its next space telescope.
SpaceX touts its Falcon Heavy as “the world’s most powerful rocket.” It is capable of lifting up to 64 metric tons into orbit with 27 Merlin engines clustered into three equally sized groups.
A test flight for Falcon Heavy launched “Starman,” a Tesla Model 3 vehicle with a spacesuit in its driver’s seat. Although it missed its goal of sending the car to Mars, it will remain in an orbit around the sun that takes it past Mars’ orbit and sparked a cute exchange between Elon Musk and women’s education activist Malala Yousafzai.
NASA already tapped the Falcon Heavy to launch components of the Lunar Gateway into lunar orbit. The Falcon Heavy will also launch the Europa Clipper, which will take readings of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
The launch of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will occur at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.