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 Astro-H (Hitomi) Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS) was a pioneering imaging x-ray spectrometer with 5 eV energy resolution at 6 keV. The instrument used a microcalorimeter array at the focus of a high-throughput soft x-ray telescope to enable high-resolution nondispersive spectroscopy in the soft x-ray waveband (0.3 to 12 keV). We present the suite of ground calibration measurements acquired from 2012 to 2015, including characterization of the detector system, anti-coincidence detector, optical blocking filters, and filter-wheel filters. The calibration of the 36-pixel silicon thermistor microcalorimeter array includes parameterizations of the energy gain scale and line-spread function for each event grade over a range of instrument operating conditions, as well as quantum efficiency measurements. The x-ray transmission of the set of five Al/polyimide thin-film optical blocking filters mounted inside the SXS dewar has been modeled based on measurements at synchrotron beamlines, including with high spectral resolution at the C, N, O, and Al K-edges. In addition, we present the x-ray transmission of the dewar gate valve and of the filters mounted on the SXS filter wheel (external to the dewar), including beryllium, polyimide, and neutral density filters.
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.
The Hard X-ray Imager (HXI) onboard Hitomi (ASTRO-H) is an imaging spectrometer covering hard x-ray energies of 5 to 80 keV. Combined with the Hard X-ray Telescope, it enables imaging spectroscopy with an angular resolution of 1′.7 half-power diameter, in a field of view of 9′ × 9′. The main imager is composed of four layers of Si detectors and one layer of CdTe detector, stacked to cover a wide energy band up to 80 keV, surrounded by an active shield made of Bi4Ge3O12 scintillator to reduce the background. The HXI started observations 12 days before the Hitomi loss and successfully obtained data from G21.5–0.9, Crab, and blank sky. Utilizing these data, we calibrate the detector response and study properties of in-orbit background. The observed Crab spectra agree well with a powerlaw model convolved with the detector response, within 5% accuracy. We find that albedo electrons in specified orbit strongly affect the background of the Si top layer and establish a screening method to reduce it. The background level over the full field of view after all the processing and screening is as low as the preflight requirement of 1 − 3 × 10−4 counts s−1 cm−2 keV−1.
The hard x-ray imaging spectroscopy system of “Hitomi” x-ray observatory is composed of two sets of hard x-ray imagers (HXI) coupled with hard x-ray telescopes (HXT). With a 12-m focal length, the system provides fine (1 ′ . 7 half-power diameter) imaging spectroscopy covering about 5 to 80 keV. The HXI sensor consists of a camera, which is composed of four layers of Si and one layer of CdTe semiconductor imagers, and an active shield composed of nine Bi4Ge3O12 scintillators to provide low background. The two HXIs started observation on March 8 and 14, 2016 and were operational until 26 March. Using a Crab observation, 5 to 80 keV energy coverage and good detection efficiency were confirmed. The detector background level of 1 to 3 × 10 − 4 counts s − 1 keV − 1 cm − 2 (in detector geometrical area) at 5 to 80 keV was achieved, by cutting the high-background time-intervals, adopting sophisticated energy-dependent imager layer selection, and baffling of the cosmic x-ray background and active-shielding. This level is among the lowest of detectors working in this energy band. By comparing the effective area and the background, it was shown that the HXI had a sensitivity that is same to that of NuSTAR for point sources and 3 to 4 times better for largely extended diffuse sources.