We describe a new implementation of a broad-band soft X-ray polarimeter, substantially based on a previous design. This implementation, the Pioneer Soft X-ray Polarimeter (PiSoX) is a SmallSat, designed for NASA’s call for Astrophysics Pioneers, small missions that could be CubeSats, balloon experiments, or SmallSats. As in REDSoX, the grating arrangement is designed optimally for the purpose of polarimetry with broad-band focussing optics by matching the dispersion of the spectrometer channels to laterally graded multilayers (LGMLs). The system can achieve polarization modulation factors over 90%. For PiSoX, the optics are lightweight Si mirrors in a one-bounce parabolic configuration. High efficiency, blazed gratings from opposite sectors are oriented to disperse to a LGML forming a channel covering the wavelength range from 35 Å to 75 Å (165 - 350 eV). Upon satellite rotation, the intensities of the dispersed spectra, after reflection and polarizing by the LGMLs, give the three Stokes parameters needed to determine a source’s linear polarization fraction and orientation. The design can be extended to higher energies as LGMLs are developed further. We describe examples of the potential scientific return from instruments based on this design.
Arcus provides high-resolution soft X-ray spectroscopy in the 12-50 Å bandpass with unprecedented sensitivity, including spectral resolution < 2500 and effective area < 250 cm2. The three top science goals for Arcus are (1) to measure the effects of structure formation imprinted upon the hot baryons that are predicted to lie in extended halos around galaxies, (2) to trace the propagation of outflowing mass, energy, and momentum from the vicinity of the black hole to extragalactic scales as a measure of their feedback, and (3) to explore how stars form and evolve. Arcus uses the same 12 m focal length grazing-incidence Silicon Pore X-ray Optics (SPOs) that ESA has developed for the Athena mission; the focal length is achieved on orbit via an extendable optical bench. The focused X-rays from these optics are diffracted by high-efficiency Critical-Angle Transmission (CAT) gratings, and the results are imaged with flight-proven CCD detectors and electronics. Combined with the high-heritage NGIS LEOStar-2 spacecraft and launched into 4:1 lunar resonant orbit, Arcus provides high sensitivity and high efficiency observing of a wide range of astrophysical sources.
The High-Energy X-ray Probe (HEX-P) is a probe-class mission concept that will extend the reach of broadband (2-200 keV) X-ray observations, with 40 times the sensitivity of any previous mission in the 10-80 keV band and 10,000 times the sensitivity of any previous mission in the 80-200 keV band. HEX-P addresses key NASA science goals and is an important complement to ESA's L-class Athena mission. Working in coordination with Athena HEX-P will provide continuum measurements that are essential for interpreting Athena spectra. With angular resolution improved by more than an order of magnitude relative to NuSTAR, HEX-P will carry out an independent program aimed at addressing questions unique to the high energy X-ray band, such as the nature of the source that powers Active Galactic Nuclei, the evolution of black holes in obscured environments, and understanding of how compact binary systems form, evolve and influence galactic systems. With heritage from NuSTAR, HEX-P can be executed within the next decade with a budget less than double that of a Medium class Explorer (MIDEX) mission.
We describe the Spectroscopic Time-Resolving Observatory for Broadband Energy X-rays (STROBE-X), a probeclass mission concept that will provide an unprecedented view of the X-ray sky, performing timing and spectroscopy over both a broad energy band (0.2–30 keV) and a wide range of timescales from microseconds to years. STROBE-X comprises two narrow-field instruments and a wide field monitor. The soft or low-energy band (0.2–12 keV) is covered by an array of lightweight optics (3-m focal length) that concentrate incident photons onto small solid-state detectors with CCD-level (85–175 eV) energy resolution, 100 ns time resolution, and low background rates. This technology has been fully developed for NICER and will be scaled up to take advantage of the longer focal length of STROBE-X. The higher-energy band (2–30 keV) is covered by large-area, collimated silicon drift detectors that were developed for the European LOFT mission concept. Each instrument will provide an order of magnitude improvement in effective area over its predecessor (NICER in the soft band and RXTE in the hard band). Finally, STROBE-X offers a sensitive wide-field monitor (WFM), both to act as a trigger for pointed observations of X-ray transients and also to provide high duty-cycle, high time-resolution, and high spectral-resolution monitoring of the variable X-ray sky. The WFM will boast approximately 20 times the sensitivity of the RXTE All-Sky Monitor, enabling multi-wavelength and multi-messenger investigations with a large instantaneous field of view. This mission concept will be presented to the 2020 Decadal Survey for consideration.
The Rocket Experiment Demonstration of a Soft X-ray Polarimeter (REDSoX Polarimeter) is a sounding rocket instrument that can make the first measurement of the linear X-ray polarization of an extragalactic source in the 0.2-0.8 keV band as low as 10%. We employ multilayer-coated mirrors as Bragg reflectors at the Brewster angle. By matching the dispersion of a spectrometer using replicated optics from MSFC and critical angle transmission gratings from MIT to three laterally graded multilayer mirrors (LGMLs), we achieve polarization modulation factors over 90%. We present a novel arrangement of gratings, designed optimally for the purpose of polarimetry with a converging beam. The entrance aperture is divided into six equal sectors; pairs of blazed gratings from opposite sectors are oriented to disperse to the same LGML. The LGML position angles are 120 degrees to each other. CCD detectors then measure the intensities of the dispersed spectra after reflection and polarizing by the LGMLs, giving the three Stokes parameters needed to determine a source’s linear polarization fraction and orientation. A current grant is funding further development to improve the LGMLs. Sample gratings for the project have been fabricated at MIT and the development team continues to improve them under separate funding. Our technological approach is the basis for a possible orbital mission
The Large Observatory For x-ray Timing (LOFT) is a mission concept which was proposed to ESA as M3 and M4 candidate in the framework of the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program. Thanks to the unprecedented combination of effective area and spectral resolution of its main instrument and the uniquely large field of view of its wide field monitor, LOFT will be able to study the behaviour of matter in extreme conditions such as the strong gravitational field in the innermost regions close to black holes and neutron stars and the supra-nuclear densities in the interiors of neutron stars. The science payload is based on a Large Area Detector (LAD, >8m2 effective area, 2-30 keV, 240 eV spectral resolution, 1 degree collimated field of view) and a Wide Field Monitor (WFM, 2-50 keV, 4 steradian field of view, 1 arcmin source location accuracy, 300 eV spectral resolution). The WFM is equipped with an on-board system for bright events (e.g., GRB) localization. The trigger time and position of these events are broadcast to the ground within 30 s from discovery. In this paper we present the current technical and programmatic status of the mission.
LOFT-P is a mission concept for a NASA Astrophysics Probe-Class (<$1B) X-ray timing mission, based on the LOFT M-class concept originally proposed to ESAs M3 and M4 calls. LOFT-P requires very large collecting area, high time resolution, good spectral resolution, broad-band spectral coverage (2-30 keV), highly flexible scheduling, and an ability to detect and respond promptly to time-critical targets of opportunity. It addresses science questions such as: What is the equation of state of ultra dense matter? What are the effects of strong gravity on matter spiraling into black holes? It would be optimized for sub-millisecond timing of bright Galactic X-ray sources including X-ray bursters, black hole binaries, and magnetars to study phenomena at the natural timescales of neutron star surfaces and black hole event horizons and to measure mass and spin of black holes. These measurements are synergistic to imaging and high-resolution spectroscopy instruments, addressing much smaller distance scales than are possible without very long baseline X-ray interferometry, and using complementary techniques to address the geometry and dynamics of emission regions. LOFT-P would have an effective area of >6 m2, > 10x that of the highly successful Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE). A sky monitor (2-50 keV) acts as a trigger for pointed observations, providing high duty cycle, high time resolution monitoring of the X-ray sky with ~20 times the sensitivity of the RXTE All-Sky Monitor, enabling multi-wavelength and multimessenger studies. A probe-class mission concept would employ lightweight collimator technology and large-area solid-state detectors, segmented into pixels or strips, technologies which have been recently greatly advanced during the ESA M3 Phase A study of LOFT. Given the large community interested in LOFT (>800 supporters*, the scientific productivity of this mission is expected to be very high, similar to or greater than RXTE (~ 2000 refereed publications). We describe the results of a study, recently completed by the MSFC Advanced Concepts Office, that demonstrates that such a mission is feasible within a NASA probe-class mission budget.
The Large Observatory For x-ray Timing (LOFT) was studied within ESA M3 Cosmic Vision framework and participated in the final downselection for a launch slot in 2022-2024. Thanks to the unprecedented combination of effective area and spectral resolution of its main instrument, LOFT will study the behaviour of matter under extreme conditions, such as the strong gravitational field in the innermost regions of accretion flows close to black holes and neutron stars, and the supranuclear densities in the interior of neutron stars. The science payload is based on a Large Area Detector (LAD, 10 m2 effective area, 2-30 keV, 240 eV spectral resolution, 1° collimated field of view) and a Wide Field Monitor (WFM, 2-50 keV, 4 steradian field of view, 1 arcmin source location accuracy, 300 eV spectral resolution). The WFM is equipped with an on-board system for bright events (e.g. GRB) localization. The trigger time and position of these events are broadcast to the ground within 30 s from discovery. In this paper we present the status of the mission at the end of its Phase A study.
The LOFT mission concept is one of four candidates selected by ESA for the M3 launch opportunity as Medium Size missions of the Cosmic Vision programme. The launch window is currently planned for between 2022 and 2024. LOFT is designed to exploit the diagnostics of rapid X-ray flux and spectral variability that directly probe the motion of matter down to distances very close to black holes and neutron stars, as well as the physical state of ultradense matter. These primary science goals will be addressed by a payload composed of a Large Area Detector (LAD) and a Wide Field Monitor (WFM). The LAD is a collimated (<1 degree field of view) experiment operating in the energy range 2-50 keV, with a 10 m2 peak effective area and an energy resolution of 260 eV at 6 keV. The WFM will operate in the same energy range as the LAD, enabling simultaneous monitoring of a few-steradian wide field of view, with an angular resolution of <5 arcmin. The LAD and WFM experiments will allow us to investigate variability from submillisecond QPO’s to yearlong transient outbursts. In this paper we report the current status of the project.
The Advanced X-ray Timing Array (AXTAR) is a mission concept for X-ray timing of compact objects that
combines very large collecting area, broadband spectral coverage, high time resolution, highly flexible scheduling,
and an ability to respond promptly to time-critical targets of opportunity. It is optimized for submillisecond
timing of bright Galactic X-ray sources in order to study phenomena at the natural time scales of neutron star
surfaces and black hole event horizons, thus probing the physics of ultradense matter, strongly curved spacetimes,
and intense magnetic fields. AXTAR's main instrument, the Large Area Timing Array (LATA) is a collimated
instrument with 2-50 keV coverage and over 3 square meters effective area. The LATA is made up of an array
of supermodules that house 2-mm thick silicon pixel detectors. AXTAR will provide a significant improvement
in effective area (a factor of 7 at 4 keV and a factor of 36 at 30 keV) over the RXTE PCA. AXTAR will also
carry a sensitive Sky Monitor (SM) that acts as a trigger for pointed observations of X-ray transients in addition
to providing high duty cycle monitoring of the X-ray sky. We review the science goals and technical concept for
AXTAR and present results from a preliminary mission design study.