The world's premier X-ray astronomical observatories, <i>Chandra</i> and <i>XMM-Newton</i>, have been operating for about 20 years. The next flagship X-ray observatory launched will be ESA's <i>Athena</i> mission. We discuss planned US contributions to the <i>Athena</i> Wide Field Imager instrument, which encompass transient source detection, background characterization and reduction, and detector electronics design and testing, in addition to scientific contributions.
The Science Products Module (SPM), a US contribution to the Athena Wide Field Imager, is a highly capable secondary CPU that performs special processing on the science data stream. The SPM will have access to both accepted X-ray events and those that were rejected by the on-board event recognition processing. It will include two software modules. The Transient Analysis Module will perform on-board processing of the science images to identify and characterize variability of the prime target and/or detection of serendipitous transient X-ray sources in the field of view. The Background Analysis Module will perform more sophisticated flagging of potential background events as well as improved background characterization, making use of data that are not telemetered to the ground, to provide improved background maps and spectra. We present the preliminary design of the SPM hardware as well as a brief overview of the software algorithms under development.
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 2016 February 17, the spacecraft lost its function on 2016 March 26, but the commissioning phase for about a month provided valuable information on the on-board 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 joint JAXA/NASA ASTRO-H mission is the sixth in a series of highly successful X-ray missions developed by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), with a planned launch in 2015. The ASTRO-H mission is equipped with a suite of sensitive instruments with the highest energy resolution ever achieved at E > 3 keV and a wide energy range spanning four decades in energy from soft X-rays to gamma-rays. The simultaneous broad band pass, coupled with the high spectral resolution of ΔE ≤ 7 eV of the micro-calorimeter, will enable a wide variety of important science themes to be pursued. ASTRO-H is expected to provide breakthrough results in scientific areas as diverse as the large-scale structure of the Universe and its evolution, the behavior of matter in the gravitational strong field regime, the physical conditions in sites of cosmic-ray acceleration, and the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters at different redshifts.