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Powerful Antenna for NASA’s Roman Space Telescope Clears Environmental Tests

The Roman Space Telescope is a NASA observatory designed to unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, search for and image exoplanets, and explore many topics in infrared astrophysics. Credit: NASA

Engineers at NASAEstablished in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity." Its core values are "safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion." NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, have finished testing the high-gain antenna for the Nancy Grace Roman Space TelescopeThe Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (previously known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or WFIRST) is a space telescope that is being developed by NASA. It is named in honor of Nancy Grace Roman, a pioneering astrophysicist who was instrumental in the development of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Roman Space Telescope is designed to study a wide range of cosmic phenomena, including the expansion of the universe, the formation and evolution of galaxies, and the search for exoplanets. It will be equipped with a wide-field camera that will allow it to survey a large portion of the sky and study objects in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Roman Space Telescope is scheduled to be launched in the mid-2020s.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>Roman Space Telescope. When it launches by May 2027, this NASA observatory will help unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, search for and image exoplanets, and explore many topics in infrared astrophysics. Pictured below in a test chamber, the antenna will provide the primary communication link between the Roman spacecraft and the ground. It will downlink the highest data volume of any NASA astrophysics mission so far.

High-gain antenna for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope undergoing testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn

The antenna reflector is made of a carbon composite material that weighs very little but will still withstand the spacecraft’s wide temperature fluctuations. The dish spans 5.6 feet (1.7 meters) in diameter, standing about as tall as a refrigerator, yet only weighs 24 pounds (10.9 kilograms). Its large size will help Roman send radio signals across a million miles of intervening space to Earth. At one frequency, the dual-band antenna will receive commands and send back information about the spacecraft’s health and location. It will use another frequency to transmit a deluge of data at up to 500 megabits per second to ground stations in New Mexico, Australia, and Japan. These locations are spread out so the Roman team will consistently be able to communicate with the spacecraft.

This infographic showcases the difference in data volume between the Nancy Grace Roman, Webb, and Hubble space telescopes. Each day, Roman will send over 500 times more data back to Earth than Hubble. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Producing this antenna was a coordinated effort between the government and the commercial sector. NASA was responsible for the radio frequency design and fabrication of the feed assemblies. A commercial partner, Applied Aerospace Structures Corporation (AASC) in Stockton, California, was contracted for the final flight mechanical design and fabrication of the composite reflector and strut assembly. The completed antenna was delivered to NASA in December.

Engineers at AASC and Goddard have extensively tested it to confirm it will operate as expected in the extreme environment of space, where it will experience a temperature range of minus 26 to 284 degrees FahrenheitThe Fahrenheit scale is a temperature scale, named after the German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit and based on one he proposed in 1724. In the Fahrenheit temperature scale, the freezing point of water freezes is 32 °F and water boils at 212 °F, a 180 °F separation, as defined at sea level and standard atmospheric pressure. ” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>Fahrenheit (minus 32 to 140 degrees CelsiusThe Celsius scale, also known as the centigrade scale, is a temperature scale named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius. In the Celsius scale, 0 °C is the freezing point of water and 100 °C is the boiling point of water at 1 atm pressure.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>Celsius). The team also put the antenna through vibrational testing to make sure it will withstand the spacecraft’s launch. Engineers measured the antenna’s performance in a radio-frequency anechoic test chamber, shown in the photo above.

Every surface in the test chamber is covered in pyramidal foam pieces that minimize interfering reflections during testing. Next, the team will attach the antenna to the articulating boom assembly, and then electrically integrate it with Roman’s Radio Frequency Communications System.

Source: SciTechDaily