NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope has reached a significant milestone as the primary structure, which will serve as the “skeleton” of the spacecraft, has been moved into the clean room at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. This structure will provide the main support for the observatory, and the spacecraft bus will be built upon it. Upon its launch in May 2027, the Roman Space Telescope will play a crucial role in uncovering the mysteries of dark matter and energy, exoplanet imaging, and infrared astrophysics.
Mechanical engineer Caroline Griffin expressed her excitement, saying, “This is a milestone several years in the making.” She added that the Roman team carefully assembled almost 2,000 individual components, many of which were custom-designed by Goddard engineers, to create this structure.
The primary structure comprises a central cylinder with a top deck that will support most of the observatory. Each of its six sides contains a compartment to house essential electronics and other hardware required for operating the observatory. The primary structure will also house major spacecraft components like the power, attitude control, and propulsion systems. During launch, the lowermost part of the primary structure will attach the spacecraft to the rocket, while the high-gain antenna will be installed beneath it.
Engineers built the structure mainly from a special grade of lightweight, strong aluminum. To further reduce weight, most of its exterior is hollowed out in a triangular pattern called an isogrid. Despite its size of 14 feet (4.3 meters) long, 12 feet (3.7 meters) wide, and 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall, the primary structure only weighs 3,600 pounds (1,600 kilograms). Engineers have applied a protective coating to protect it from environmental conditions on Earth and ensure the right temperature profile in space. The team has performed fit checks to guarantee that all the components are accurately positioned for proper connection of additional parts.
The primary structure is now placed on the Pantheon, a large assembly platform built specifically for the Roman Space Telescope. The team is currently installing the harness, which acts as the spacecraft’s nervous system, and plans to connect the electronics in June 2023.