Ball Aerospace Completes Focal Plane System Integration on Roman Space Telescope

Ball Aerospace has successfully finished the integration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s Focal Plane System (FPS), taking another important step toward the eventual completion of NASA’s next flagship astrophysics observatory. Once launched, Roman will serve as a revolutionary new tool for the scientific community to explore the evolution of the early universe, discover exoplanets and provide new insights into the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.
An image of the Wide Field Instrument after final hardware installation and prior to installation of the thermal insulation.

In May, the FPS — what NASA calls the “heart” of Roman — was delivered from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, where the program team went to work integrating it into the Wide Field Instrument (WFI), Roman’s camera and primary scientific instrument. As the core of the camera, the FPS includes 18 16-megapixel infrared detectors that will convert starlight into electrical signals, and thereby into high-resolution images of space. The detectors were developed by engineers at NASA Goddard and Teledyne Scientific & Imaging.

In addition to integrating the FPS, Ball Aerospace is responsible for designing, integrating and testing the WFI’s opto-mechanical assembly. The opto-mechanical assembly includes the optical bench, thermal control system, element wheel with its associated optics, alignment compensation mechanism and more, all needed to ensure the alignment of those subsystems is maintained within the thermal environment WFI needs to provide unprecedentedly precise astronomical images. The integration of these delicate pieces is a demanding process that requires precision at every step.
Ball Aerospace team members after Focal Plane System (FPS) integration.

“There’s a rigorous process in how we make the connections between those subsystems and how we evaluate the integrity of their performance afterward,” said Matthew Coon, Ball Aerospace’s program manager for Roman. “There’s a lot of diversity in terms of the skillset on our team because the processes and techniques that we use for integration pull in people from so many different disciplines. Getting everyone to come together and be able to communicate and plan their activities around each other is an art of its own. But we’ve got some very skilled engineers, technicians and project managers that make it happen.”

Ball will lead environmental testing for the WFI, a months-long process that includes placing the instrument into a thermal vacuum chamber that simulates conditions in space. Additional tests involve vibration and acoustic testing to ensure the WFI will hold up to rocket launch conditions, and electromagnetic interference and compatibility testing so that the instrument’s electronics don’t interfere with one another.
NASA’s Goddard team members are pictured after installation of NASA’s Relative Calibration System (sRCS) into the Wide Field Instrument. This is an intermediate step along the way to completing all integration activity.

All the hard work will prove worthwhile once the telescope is launched. The observatory will complement missions like the Hubble Space Telescope, providing images with the same level of detail with a field of view at least 100 times greater and a survey more than 1,000 times broader. That means scientists and amateur astronomers will have access to new data at a speed and scale never before possible.

“The integration of the Focal Plane System into the Wide Field Instrument is an exciting milestone for the entire Roman team,” said Dr. Alberto Conti, vice president and general manager, Civil Space, Ball Aerospace. “This telescope is going to change the way we look at the universe around us, and Ball Aerospace is proud to continue our legacy of supporting every NASA flagship in its quest to expand our understanding of our solar system.”

Once environmental testing is completed next spring, Ball Aerospace will deliver the WFI back to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The observatory is expected to launch by May 2027.

The Roman Space Telescope is the latest in Ball Aerospace’s long history of working on NASA’s Great Observatories, dating back decades to include the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Spitzer Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope.