Nancy Grace Roman in front of a control board

This year WFIRST was officially named the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, and STScI made big strides in educating the scientific community about its range of research opportunities.

In 2010 the astronomy community officially called for a space-based telescope capable of exploring the nature of dark energy as a top priority. A decade later, the mission is now a wide-field survey telescope that will have Hubble’s high resolution and sensitivity, plus 100 times its field of view. It will investigate the nature of dark energy, discover and characterize exoplanets, and revolutionize space-based astronomy with its expansive datasets. This year, the observatory was officially named for a pioneer of space-based astronomy, Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first Chief of Astronomy. Dr. Roman joined the six-month-old agency in 1959 and developed a wide-ranging space astronomy program, including rockets, satellites, and the first large space-based observatory, which was later renamed the Hubble Space Telescope.

Major Advancements

Quote from Nancy Grace Roman interviewTrue to its namesake, the mission formerly known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) made great strides despite the challenges faced by all in 2020. In March, the mission officially moved from the preliminary design and technology completion phase to the final design and fabrication phase. 

In July, the mission’s ground systems passed a major design review, which staff at the institute supported as the mission’s Science Operations Center. In this role, STScI staff will plan, schedule, and carry out observations, process and archive mission datasets, as well as engage the astronomical community and the public. In passing the review, the plan for science operations met all of the design, schedule, and budget requirements. The mission will now proceed to the next phase: building the newly designed systems that will enable planning and scheduling of Roman Space Telescope observations, and managing the resulting data. STScI will collaborate closely with Roman Mission partners, including NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the Roman Science Support Center at IPAC/Caltech.

Community Engagement

Following the advice of its Roman Space Telescope Advisory Committee, the institute circulated a survey to the astronomical community to solicit input on the anticipated science drivers for Roman’s Core Community Surveys and General Observer programs. The survey yielded over 550 responses. Almost half of respondents expressed interest in a high galactic-latitude imaging survey, while surveys of nearby galaxies and an ultra-deep high-latitude survey also garnered strong interest. While Roman was initially envisioned to address specific questions about cosmology, dark energy, and exoplanet science, feedback from the astronomy community has shown scientists are looking forward to applying Roman’s capabilities over the full gamut of observational astronomy.

In October, the institute hosted the fully virtual conference on “Galaxy Formation and Evolution in the Era of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope.” The event was live-streamed and available for viewing afterward, which more than doubled the reach of the conference. The event featured 14 invited speakers, 36 contributed talks, and 67 posters that addressed the topics of high-redshift galaxies, active galactic nuclei, data science, star formation and dust, synergies with other missions, theory and simulations, galaxy properties, and dark matter.

Looking ahead, Roman is on track for launch and the beginning of operations in the mid-2020s. The institute’s staff will continue to engage the astronomical community to prepare for the wealth of data and discoveries Roman will generate. 

Visualization of galaxies
This visualization of simulated Roman Space Telescope data shows the large-scale distribution of star-forming galaxies. The wedge above includes more than 215,000 galaxies. Data provided by Z. Zhai and Y. Wang, Caltech/IPAC; visualization by J. DePasquale and D. Player, STScI.