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NASA's Next Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope is continuing to unravel the beauty and mystery of the cosmos since delivering its first images in July last year - but the mission to deploy the next big space telescope is already well underway.

Illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will be the next big space telescope to launch following the deployment of the latest NASA telescope, which itself was the successor to the still-active Hubble telescope.

Nancy Grace Roman was the first female executive at NASA, and served as NASA's first Chief of Astronomy throughout the 1960s and 1970s, establishing her as one of the "visionary founders of the US civilian space program". And the telescope bearing her name is expected to usher in "a new age for astronomy," one of the European Space Agency (ESA) scientists working on the project told Euronews Next. it will gather more data than any other NASA mission launched before, and attempt to answer some of the biggest questions in astrophysics.

Scheduled to launch by 2027 at the latest, it will be able to capture "a more panoramic view of the universe and to allow more statistical studies," explained Marco Sirianni, ESA’s Science Operations Development Manager who is working on the project with NASA.

While Hubble and Webb are extremely good at zooming in to get a detailed look at small parts of the sky, Roman is going to have a much wider field of view and collect vast amounts of data.

So while it will be able to produce "exquisite" images, the likes of which we have gotten used to from Hubble and Webb, it is mainly "going to be a telescope dedicated for surveys," said Sirianni.

For example, a recent “mosaic" of our neighbouring galaxy Andromeda was put together with 400 individual images taken by Hubble. Roman will be able paint the same vast picture with the same level of detail with just two images. And these much larger images means there will be an unprecedented amount of data collected.

"Just to give you an idea, in 30 years of Hubble operating we have gathered something like 170 terabytes of data," explained Sirianni. "For Webb, we expect in five years to have 1,000 terabytes. And for the 5 years nominal life for Roman we expect to have 20,000 terabytes".

Ultimately, it will gather data on billions of galaxies to create a "3D model of the universe".

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