NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) progressed smoothly through its final ground-test activities in 2016 and early 2017, in preparation for a spectacular launch and installation on the International Space Station in June 2017. Activation of the payload and initial calibration of its systems followed, rounding out Phase D, Testing and Commissioning, of the mission's development cycle. We describe the final ground verification measurements of NICER's key performance parameters, such as the X-ray Timing Instrument's photon energy resolution and time-stamping accuracy, as well as in-flight effective collecting area, pointing, background, and other calibration efforts. The payload meets all of its design requirements and is poised to deliver new insights in soft X-ray astrophysics; briefly, we touch on early science returns that showcase NICER's unique capabilities.
The Polarimeter for Relativistic Astrophysical X-ray Sources (PRAXyS) is one of three Small Explorer (SMEX)
missions selected by NASA for Phase A study, with a launch date in 2020. The PRAXyS Observatory exploits grazing
incidence X-ray mirrors and Time Projection Chamber Polarimeters capable of measuring the linear polarization of
cosmic X-ray sources in the 2-10 keV band. PRAXyS combines well-characterized instruments with spacecraft rotation
to ensure low systematic errors. The PRAXyS payload is developed at the Goddard Space Flight Center with the Johns
Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Iowa, and RIKEN (JAXA) collaborating on the
Polarimeter Assembly. The LEOStar-2 spacecraft bus is developed by Orbital ATK, which also supplies the extendable
optical bench that enables the Observatory to be compatible with a Pegasus class launch vehicle.
A nine month primary mission will provide sensitive observations of multiple black hole and neutron star sources, where
theory predicts polarization is a strong diagnostic, as well as exploratory observations of other high energy sources.
The primary mission data will be released to the community rapidly and a Guest Observer extended mission will be
During 2014 and 2015, NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission proceeded success- fully through Phase C, Design and Development. An X-ray (0.2-12 keV) astrophysics payload destined for the International Space Station, NICER is manifested for launch in early 2017 on the Commercial Resupply Services SpaceX-11 flight. Its scientific objectives are to investigate the internal structure, dynamics, and energetics of neutron stars, the densest objects in the universe. During Phase C, flight components including optics, detectors, the optical bench, pointing actuators, electronics, and others were subjected to environmental testing and integrated to form the flight payload. A custom-built facility was used to co-align and integrate the X-ray "con- centrator" optics and silicon-drift detectors. Ground calibration provided robust performance measures of the optical (at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center) and detector (at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) subsystems, while comprehensive functional tests prior to payload-level environmental testing met all instrument performance requirements. We describe here the implementation of NICER's major subsystems, summarize their performance and calibration, and outline the component-level testing that was successfully applied.
The Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR (NICER) is set to be deployed on the International Space Station (ISS) in early 2017. It will use an array of 56 Silicon Drift Detectors (SDDs) to detect soft X-rays (0.2 - 12 keV) with 100 nanosecond timing resolution. Here we describe the effort to calibrate the detectors in the lab primarily using a Modulated X-ray Source (MXS).
The MXS that was customized for NICER provides more than a dozen emission lines spread over the instrument bandwidth, providing calibration measurements for detector gain and spectral resolution. In addition, the fluorescence source in the MXS was pulsed at high frequency to enable measurement of the delay due to charge collection in the silicon and signal processing in the detector electronics. A second chamber, designed to illuminate detectors with either 55Fe, an optical LED, or neither, provided additional calibration of detector response, optical blocking, and effectiveness of background rejection techniques. The overall ground calibration achieved total operating time that was generally in the range of 500-1500 hours for each of the 56 detectors.
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is the first focusing high energy (3-79 keV) X-ray observatory operating for four years from low Earth orbit. The X-ray detector arrays are located on the spacecraft bus with the optics modules mounted on a flexible mast of 10.14m length. The motion of the telescope optical axis on the detectors during each observation is measured by a laser metrology system and matches the pre-launch predictions of the thermal flexing of the mast as the spacecraft enters and exits the Earths shadow each orbit. However, an additional motion of the telescope field of view was discovered during observatory commissioning that is associated with the spacecraft attitude control system and an additional flexing of the mast correlated with the Solar aspect angle for the observation. We present the methodology developed to predict where any particular target coordinate will fall on the NuSTAR detectors based on the Solar aspect angle at the scheduled time of an observation. This may be applicable to future observatories that employ optics deployed on extendable masts. The automation of the prediction system has greatly improved observatory operations efficiency and the reliability of observation planning.
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is the first focusing high energy (3-79 keV) X-ray observatory. The NuSTAR project is led by Caltech, which hosts the Science Operations Center (SOC), with mission operations managed by UCB Space Sciences Laboratory. We present an overview of NuSTAR science operations and describe the on-orbit performance of the observatory. The SOC is enhancing science operations to serve the community with a guest observing program beginning in 2015. We present some of the challenges and approaches taken by the SOC to operating a full service space observatory that maximizes the scientific return from the mission.
Over a 10-month period during 2013 and early 2014, development of the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission  proceeded through Phase B, Mission Definition. An external attached payload on the International Space Station (ISS), NICER is scheduled to launch in 2016 for an 18-month baseline mission. Its prime scientific focus is an in-depth investigation of neutron stars—objects that compress up to two Solar masses into a volume the size of a city—accomplished through observations in 0.2–12 keV X-rays, the electromagnetic band into which the stars radiate significant fractions of their thermal, magnetic, and rotational energy stores. Additionally, NICER enables the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) demonstration of spacecraft navigation using pulsars as beacons. During Phase B, substantive refinements were made to the mission-level requirements, concept of operations, and payload and instrument design. Fabrication and testing of engineering-model components improved the fidelity of the anticipated scientific performance of NICER’s X-ray Timing Instrument (XTI), as well as of the payload’s pointing system, which enables tracking of science targets from the ISS platform. We briefly summarize advances in the mission’s formulation that, together with strong programmatic performance in project management, culminated in NICER’s confirmation by NASA into Phase C, Design and Development, in March 2014.
X-ray polarization measurements hold great promise for studying the geometry and emission mechanisms in the strong gravitational and magnetic fields that surround black holes and neutron stars. In spite of this, the observational situation remains very limited; the last instrument dedicated to X-ray polarimetry flew decades ago on OSO-8, and the few recent measurements have been made by instruments optimized for other purposes. However, the technical capabilities to greatly advance the observational situation are in hand. Recent developments in micro-pattern gas detectors allow use of the polarization sensitivity of the photo-electric effect, which is the dominant interaction in the band above 2 keV. We present the scientific and technical requirements for an X-ray polarization observatory consistent with the scope of a NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) mission, along with a representative catalog of what the observational capabilities and expected sensitivities for the first year of operation could be. The mission is based on the technically robust design of the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism SMEX (GEMS) which completed a Phase B study and Preliminary Design Review in 2012. The GEMS mission is enabled by time projection detectors sensitive to the photo-electric effect. Prototype detectors have been designed, and provide engineering and performance data which support the mission design. The detectors are further characterized by low background, modest spectral resolution, and sub-millisecond timing resolution. The mission also incorporates high efficiency grazing incidence X-ray mirrors, design features that reduce systematic errors (identical telescopes at different azimuthal angles with respect to the look axis, and mounted on a rotating spacecraft platform), and a moderate capability to perform Target of Opportunity observations. The mission operates autonomously in a low earth, low inclination orbit with one to ten downlinks per day and one or more uplinks per week. Data and calibration products will be made available through the High Energy Astrophysics Science and Archival Research Center (HEASARC).
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission was launched on 2012 June 13 and is the first focusing high-energy X-ray telescope in orbit operating above ~10 keV. NuSTAR flies two co-aligned Wolter-I conical approximation X-ray optics, coated with Pt/C and W/Si multilayers, and combined with a focal length of 10.14 meters this enables operation from 3-79 keV. The optics focus onto two focal plane arrays, each consisting of 4 CdZnTe pixel detectors, for a field of view of 12.5 arcminutes. The inherently low background associated with concentrating the X-ray light enables NuSTAR to probe the hard X-ray sky with a more than 100-fold improvement in sensitivity, and with an effective point spread function FWHM of 18 arcseconds (HPD ~1), NuSTAR provides a leap of improvement in resolution over the collimated or coded mask instruments that have operated in this bandpass. We present in-orbit performance details of the observatory and highlight important science results from the first two years of the mission.
In addition to providing the initial gamma-ray burst trigger and location, the Swift Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) will also perform an all-sky hard x-ray survey based on serendipitous pointings resulting from the study of gamma-ray bursts. BAT was designed with a very wide field-of-view (FOV) so that it can observe roughly 1/7 of the sky at any time. Since gamma-ray bursts are uniformly distributed over the sky, the final BAT survey coverage is expected to be nearly uniform. BAT's large effective area and long sky exposures will produce a 15 - 150 keV survey with up to 30 times better sensitivity than any previous hard x-ray survey (e.g. HEAO A4). Since the sensitivity of deep exposures in this energy range is systematics limited, the ultimate survey sensitivity depends on the relative sizes of the statistical and systematic errors in the data. Many careful calibration experiments were performed at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center to better understand the BAT instrument's response to 15-150 keV gamma-rays incident from any direction within the FOV. Using radioactive sources of gamma-rays with known locations and energies, the Swift team can identify potential systematic errors in the telescope's performance and estimate the actual Swift hard x-ray survey sensitivity in flight. These calibration results will be discussed and a preliminary parameterization of the BAT instrument response will be presented. While the details of the individual BAT CZT detector response will be presented elsewhere in these proceedings, this talk will focus on the translation of the calibration experimental data into overall hard x-ray survey sensitivity.
The properties of 32k CdZnTe detectors have been studied in the
pre-flight calibration of Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) on-board the
Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer (scheduled for launch in January 2004).
After corrections of the linearity and the gain, the energy resolution
of summed spectrum is 7.0 keV (FWHM) at 122~keV. In order to construct
response matrices for the BAT instrument, we extracted
mobility-lifetime (μτ) products for electrons and holes in the
CdZnTe. Based on a new method applied to 57Co spectra taken at different bias voltages, μτ for electrons ranges from
5.0x10-4 to 1.0x10-2cm2V-1, while μτ for holes ranges from 1.0x10-5 to
1.7x10-4cm2V-1. We show that the distortion of the spectrum and the peak efficiency of the BAT instrument are well reproduced by the μτ database constructed in the calibration.