L3Harris Technologies Inc.’s Rochester Space & Airborne Systems team has finished figuring, polishing and coating the primary mirror for NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, formerly known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, bringing it one step closer to launch.
Roman’s primary mirror will collect and focus light from exoplanets, stars, galaxies and supernovae for the telescope, ultimately feeding scientific instruments. The telescope will allow scientists to study the cosmos in a complementary way to the Hubble Space Telescope, using a 100-times larger field of view than Hubble in order to study far more objects in the sky.
“Scientific instruments require precision and accuracy, which is what our technicians and engineers brought to developing the Roman telescope’s primary mirror,” said Ed Zoiss, president of L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems. “Fabricating space telescope mirrors is a craft, involving a painstaking process to remove molecules of glass that interfere with a mirror’s precision. Ultimately, our work will help scientists discover parts of the universe previously unseen, like exoplanets and dark energy.”
The primary mirror has undergone testing in L3Harris’ thermal vacuum chambers designed to simulate the cold, harsh space environment, and an optical test verified the performance of the mirror. Engineers and technicians will simulate zero gravity by offloading the weight of the mirror through specialty support equipment specifically developed for this purpose.
Harris Corp. has been awarded a $195 million contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to help build a flagship telescope. The project will support 160 Rochester-based jobs.
The announcement comes on the heels of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer’s visit to Harris’ 575,000-square-foot Henrietta facility last month. Schumer was in town to drum up support for federal funding for NASA’s next space telescope, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is being constructed largely by Harris’ Rochester workforce.
Once complete, WFIRST will explore an area of space 100 times larger than the Hubble Telescope, and will significantly enhance the precision and clarity of NASA’s view into outer space.
“You don’t need a high-powered, infrared space telescope to see that this massive, $195 million investment means great jobs for Harris Corp. and Rochester,” Schumer said in a statement Wednesday. “With this critical contract secured, we are one step closer to propelling the revolutionary WFIRST Telescope to liftoff—something that will open up unknown corners of the universe to NASA and all humanity.”
The WFIRST Telescope is designed to help determine what dark energy is and what its implications for the universe are. And, Schumer said, WFIRST will be uniquely built to be an exoplanet hunter “to find and survey now unknown worlds that might support life.”
NASA in 2016 initiated the WFIRST Telescope design, which uses a 2.4-meter telescope form developed by Harris in Rochester. NASA’s goal is to launch the telescope in the 2020s. The entire project will cost roughly $3 billion and be completed in the next few years.
Earlier this year, the federal Office of Management and Budget proposed cutting all fiscal year 2019 funding for the WFIRST project. However, Schumer pushed his colleagues in the Senate to include $352 million in NASA funding for the telescope in their version of the Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations bill.
“I’m going to fight like the dickens to make sure the full $352 million stays in the budget and is signed into law by the president,” Schumer said while visiting Rochester in November. “Given the huge amounts of money the federal government spends, this investment will have a huge bang for the buck.”
Harris Corp.’s Rochester-based Space and Intelligence Systems has shipped its largest mirror ever for a ground-based observatory that will produce the deepest, widest views of the universe.
As part of the National Science Foundation team assembling the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) on the Cerro Pachon ridge in Chili, Harris is providing the 3.5 meter, 3,500-pound secondary mirror and associated ground support equipment. Harris also is delivering the cell assembly that stabilizes the mirror to offset the effects of gravity during operation.
It took Harris employees some five years to design, build, integrate, test and ship the LSST mirror and cell assembly.
“The Harris-built secondary mirror for LSST continues a 50-year legacy of designing and constructing high-end optical systems that meet challenging requirements,” said Murali Krishnan, vice president and general manager, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for Harris Space and Intelligence Systems. “We can’t wait to see the science that will be discovered.”
LSST will conduct an unprecedented, decade-long survey of the entire visible sky, detecting billions of new objects and contributing to the study of dark matter and dark energy. LSST will seek to enable science in four areas including the understanding of dark matter and dark energy; cataloging the solar system; exploring the changing sky; and investigating the formation and structure of the Milky Way.
Operations are scheduled to begin in 2022.
“This achievement marks the successful conclusion of a great joint effort between LSST and Harris. Numerous challenges due to the mirror’s large size and convex shape were overcome with novel and custom fabrication and metrology solutions,” said LSST Telescope and Site Manager William Gressler in a statement. “The Harris team successfully completed and is delivering the world’s largest active secondary mirror system. We look forward to its delivery to the summit site in Chile and future telescope integration.”
Harris employs some 3,500 people in Rochester between its Space and Intelligence Systems and Communication Systems divisions.
“This federal National Science Foundation investment is leveraging Harris’ skilled Rochester workforce to bring the farthest reaches of the universe into focus,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said. “A leader in Rochester’s world-class optics and photonics industry, Harris employees are making history by manufacturing the world’s largest terrestrial telescope active secondary mirror system in Rochester, N.Y. Their cutting-edge achievement will push scientific frontiers, enable new discoveries and chart the universe like never before.”
Schumer, a vocal proponent of both Harris’ local operations and the continued exploration of the cosmos, was in town last week to drum up support for federal funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next space telescope, Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is being constructed largely by Harris’ Rochester workforce.
WFIRST will have the same image precision as the Hubble telescope, but will be able to see an area of space 100 times larger than Hubble can see.
Earlier this year, the Office of Management and Budget proposed cutting all fiscal year 2019 funding for the WFIRST project, however Schumer pushed his colleagues in the Senate to include $352 million in NASA funding for the telescope in their version of the Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations bill.
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