9 August 2016 Development of the FPI+ as facility science instrument for SOFIA cycle four observations
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Abstract
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a heavily modified Boeing 747SP aircraft, accommodating a 2.5m infrared telescope. This airborne observation platform takes astronomers to flight altitudes of up to 13.7 km (45,000ft) and therefore allows an unobstructed view of the infrared universe at wavelengths between 0.3 m and 1600 m. SOFIA is currently completing its fourth cycle of observations and utilizes eight different imaging and spectroscopic science instruments. New instruments for SOFIAs cycle 4 observations are the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-plus (HAWC+) and the Focal Plane Imager (FPI+). The latter is an integral part of the telescope assembly and is used on every SOFIA flight to ensure precise tracking on the desired targets. The FPI+ is used as a visual-light photometer in its role as facility science instrument. Since the upgrade of the FPI camera and electronics in 2013, it uses a thermo-electrically cooled science grade EM-CCD sensor inside a commercial-off-the-shelf Andor camera. The back-illuminated sensor has a peak quantum efficiency of 95% and the dark current is as low as 0.01 e-/pix/sec. With this new hardware the telescope has successfully tracked on 16th magnitude stars and thus the sky coverage, e.g. the area of sky that has suitable tracking stars, has increased to 99%. Before its use as an integrated tracking imager, the same type of camera has been used as a standalone diagnostic tool to analyze the telescope pointing stability at frequencies up to 200 Hz (imaging with 400 fps). These measurements help to improve the telescope pointing control algorithms and therefore reduce the image jitter in the focal plane. Science instruments benefit from this improvement with smaller image sizes for longer exposure times. The FPI has also been used to support astronomical observations like stellar occultations by the dwarf planet Pluto and a number of exoplanet transits. Especially the observation of the occultation events benefits from the high camera sensitivity, fast readout capability and the low read noise and it was possible to achieve high time resolution on the photometric light curves. This paper will give an overview of the development from the standalone diagnostic camera to the upgraded guiding/tracking camera, fully integrated into the telescope, while still offering the diagnostic capabilities and finally to the use as a facility science instrument on SOFIA.
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Enrico Pfüller, Manuel Wiedemann, Jürgen Wolf, Alfred Krabbe, "Development of the FPI+ as facility science instrument for SOFIA cycle four observations", Proc. SPIE 9908, Ground-based and Airborne Instrumentation for Astronomy VI, 99082W (9 August 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2233490; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2233490
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