The Hitomi (ASTRO-H) mission is the sixth Japanese x-ray astronomy satellite developed by a large international collaboration, including Japan, USA, Canada, and Europe. The mission aimed to provide the highest energy resolution ever achieved at E > 2 keV, using a microcalorimeter instrument, and to cover a wide energy range spanning four decades in energy from soft x-rays to gamma rays. After a successful launch on February 17, 2016, the spacecraft lost its function on March 26, 2016, but the commissioning phase for about a month provided valuable information on the onboard instruments and the spacecraft system, including astrophysical results obtained from first light observations. The paper describes the Hitomi (ASTRO-H) mission, its capabilities, the initial operation, and the instruments/spacecraft performances confirmed during the commissioning operations for about a month.
The soft x-ray spectrometer (SXS) instrument that flew on the Astro-H observatory was designed to perform imaging and spectroscopy of x-rays in the energy range of 0.2 to 13 keV with a resolution requirement of 7 eV or better. This was accomplished using a 6 × 6 array of x-ray microcalorimeters cooled to an operating temperature of 50 mK by an adiabatic demagnetization refrigerator (ADR). The ADR consisted of three stages to operate using either a 1.2 K superfluid helium bath or a 4.5 K Joule–Thomson (JT) cryocooler as its heat sink. The design was based on the following operating strategy. After launch, while liquid helium was present (cryogen mode), two of the ADR’s stages would be used to single-shot cool the detectors, using the helium as a heat sink. When the helium was eventually depleted (cryogen-free mode), all three ADR stages would be used to continuously cool the helium tank to about 1.5 K and to single-shot cool the detectors (to 50 mK), using the JT cryocooler as a heat sink. The Astro-H observatory, renamed Hitomi after its successful launch in February 2016, carried ∼36 L of helium into orbit. Based on measurements during ground testing, the average heat load on the helium was projected to be 0.66 mW, giving a lifetime of more than 4 years. On day 5, the helium had cooled to <1.4 K and ADR operation began, successfully cooling the detector array to 50 mK. The ADR’s hold time steadily increased to 48 h as the helium cooled to a temperature of 1.12 K. As the commissioning phase progressed, the ADR was recycled (requiring ∼45 min) periodically, either in preparation for science observations or whenever the 50 mK stage approached the end of its hold time. In total, 18 cycles were completed by the time an attitude control anomaly led to an unrecoverable failure of the satellite on day 38. This paper presents the design, operation, and on-orbit performance of the ADR in cryogen mode as the foreshortened mission did not provide an opportunity to test cryogen-free mode.
The soft x-ray spectrometer (SXS) on-board Astro-H presents to the science community unprecedented capability (<7 eV full width half max at 6 keV) for high-resolution spectral measurements in the range of 0.5 to 12 keV to study extended celestial sources. At the heart of the SXS is the x-ray calorimeter spectrometer (XCS) where detectors (calorimeter array and anticoincidence detector) operate at 50 mK, the bias circuit operates at nominal 1.3 K, and the first stage amplifiers operate at 130 K, all within a nominal 20-cm envelope. The design of the detector assembly (DA) in the XCS originates from the Astro-E x-ray spectrometer (XRS) and lessons learned from Astro-E and Suzaku. After the production of our engineering model, additional changes were made to improve our flight assembly process for better reliability and overall performance. We present the final design and implementation of the flight DA, compare its parameters and performance with Suzaku’s XRS, and list susceptibilities to other subsystems as well as our lessons learned.
The Canadian Astro-H Metrology System (CAMS) on the Hitomi x-ray satellite is a laser alignment system that measures the lateral displacement (X/Y) of the extensible optical bench (EOB) along the optical axis of the hard x-ray telescopes (HXTs). The CAMS consists of two identical units that together can be used to discern translation and rotation of the deployable element along the axis. This paper presents the results of in-flight usage of the CAMS during deployment of the EOB and during two observations (Crab and G21.5-0.9) with the HXTs. The CAMS was extremely important during the deployment operation by providing real-time positioning information of the EOB with micrometer-scale resolution. We show how the CAMS improves data quality coming from the hard x-ray imagers. Moreover, we demonstrate that a metrology system is even more important as the angular resolution of the telescope increases. Such a metrology system will be an indispensable tool for future high-resolution x-ray imaging missions.
The Soft X-ray Spectrometer onboard the Astro-H (Hitomi) orbiting x-ray observatory featured an array of 36 silicon thermistor x-ray calorimeters optimized to perform high spectral resolution x-ray imaging spectroscopy of astrophysical sources in the 0.3- to 12-keV band. Extensive preflight calibration measurements are the basis for our modeling of the pulse height–energy relation and energy resolution for each pixel and event grade, telescope collecting area, detector efficiency, and pulse arrival time. Because of the early termination of mission operations, we needed to extract the maximum information from observations performed only days into the mission when the onboard calibration sources had not yet been commissioned and the dewar was still coming into thermal equilibrium, so our technique for reconstructing the per-pixel time-dependent pulse height–energy relation had to be modified. The gain scale was reconstructed using a combination of an absolute energy scale calibration at a single time using a fiducial from an onboard radioactive source and calibration of a dominant time-dependent gain drift component using a dedicated calibration pixel, as well as a residual time-dependent variation using spectra from the Perseus cluster of galaxies. The energy resolution was also measured using the onboard radioactive sources. It is consistent with instrument-level measurements accounting for the modest increase in noise due to spacecraft systems interference. We use observations of two pulsar wind nebulae to validate our models of the telescope area and detector efficiency and to derive a more accurate value for the thickness of the gate-valve Be window, which had not been opened by the time mission operations ceased. We use observations of the Crab nebula to refine the pixel-to-pixel timing and validate the absolute timing.