21 September 2012 Breakthrough capability for the NASA astrophysics explorer program: reaching the darkest sky
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We describe a mission architecture designed to substantially increase the science capability of the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Astrophysics Explorer Program for all AO proposers working within the near-UV to far-infrared spectrum. We have demonstrated that augmentation of Falcon 9 Explorer launch services with a 13 kW Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) stage can deliver a 700 kg science observatory payload to extra-Zodiacal orbit. This new capability enables up to ~13X increased photometric sensitivity and ~160X increased observing speed relative to a Sun- Earth L2, Earth-trailing, or Earth orbit with no increase in telescope aperture. All enabling SEP stage technologies for this launch service augmentation have reached sufficient readiness (TRL-6) for Explorer Program application in conjunction with the Falcon 9. We demonstrate that enabling Astrophysics Explorers to reach extra-zodiacal orbit will allow this small payload program to rival the science performance of much larger long development time systems; thus, providing a means to realize major science objectives while increasing the SMD Astrophysics portfolio diversity and resiliency to external budget pressure. The SEP technology employed in this study has strong applicability to SMD Planetary Science community-proposed missions. SEP is a stated flight demonstration priority for NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT). This new mission architecture for astrophysics Explorers enables an attractive realization of joint goals for OCT and SMD with wide applicability across SMD science disciplines.
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Matthew A. Greenhouse, Matthew A. Greenhouse, Scott W. Benson, Scott W. Benson, Robert D. Falck, Robert D. Falck, Dale J. Fixsen, Dale J. Fixsen, Jonathan P. Gardner, Jonathan P. Gardner, James B. Garvin, James B. Garvin, Jeffrey W. Kruk, Jeffrey W. Kruk, Steven R. Oleson, Steven R. Oleson, Harley A. Thronson, Harley A. Thronson, } "Breakthrough capability for the NASA astrophysics explorer program: reaching the darkest sky", Proc. SPIE 8442, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2012: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave, 844214 (21 September 2012); doi: 10.1117/12.923658; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.923658

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