X-ray polarimetry offers a new window into the high-energy universe, yet there has been no instrument so far that could measure the polarization of soft X-rays (about 17-80 Å) from astrophysical sources. The Rocket Experiment Demonstration of a Soft X-ray Polarimeter (REDSoX Polarimeter) is a proposed sounding rocket experiment that uses a focusing optic and splits the beam into three channels. Each channel has a set of criticalangle transmission (CAT) gratings that disperse the x-rays onto a laterally graded multilayer (LGML) mirror, which preferentially reflects photons with a specific polarization angle. The three channels are oriented at 120 deg to each other and thus measure the three Stokes parameters: I, Q, and U. The period of the LGML changes with position. The main design challenge is to arrange the gratings so that they disperse the spectrum in such a way that all rays are dispersed onto the position on the multi-layer mirror where they satisfy the local Bragg condition despite arriving on the mirror at different angles due to the converging beam from the focusing optics. We present a polarimeteric Monte-Carlo ray-trace of this design to assess non-ideal effects from e.g. mirror scattering or the finite size of the grating facets. With mirror properties both simulated and measured in the lab for LGML mirrors of 80-200 layers we show that the reflectivity and the width of the Bragg-peak are sufficient to make this design work when non-ideal effects are included in the simulation. Our simulations give us an effective area curve, the modulation factor and the figure of merit for the REDSoX polarimeter. As an example, we simulate an observation of Mk 421 and show that we could easily detect a 20% linear polarization.
Arcus, a Medium Explorer (MIDEX) mission, was selected by NASA for a Phase A study in August 2017. The observatory provides high-resolution soft X-ray spectroscopy in the 12-50Å bandpass with unprecedented sensitivity: effective areas of >450 cm2 and spectral resolution >2500. The Arcus key science goals are (1) to measure the effects of structure formation imprinted upon the hot baryons that are predicted to lie in extended halos around galaxies, groups, and clusters, (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, circumstellar disks and exoplanet atmospheres form and evolve. Arcus relies upon the same 12m focal length grazing-incidence silicon pore X-ray optics (SPO) 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. The power and telemetry requirements on the spacecraft are modest. Mission operations are straightforward, as most observations will be long (~100 ksec), uninterrupted, and pre-planned, although there will be capabilities to observe sources such as tidal disruption events or supernovae with a ~3 day turnaround. Following the 2nd year of operation, Arcus will transition to a proposal-driven guest observatory facility.
Spectroscopy of soft X-rays is an extremely powerful tool to understand the physics of the hot plasma in the universe but in many cases, such as kinematic properties of stellar emission lines or weak absorption features, we have reached the limits of current instrumentation. Critical-angle transmission (CAT) gratings blaze the dispersed spectra into high orders and also offer a high throughput. We present detailed ray-traces for the Arcus mission, which promises an effective area > 0.5 m2 and resolving power > 2500 in the soft X-rays. The mirror consists of Athena-like silicon pore optics (SPOs) arranged in four petals. Each petal spans an azimuth of about 30 degrees and thus offers a point-spread function that is significantly narrower in one dimension than a full mirror would provide. The four channels are split into two pairs, where each pair has its own optical axis. For each pair, CAT gratings are arranged on a tilted Rowland torus and the two separate tori are positioned to overlap in such a way that the dispersed spectra from both pairs can be imaged onto a common set of CCD detectors, while at the same time keeping the requirement of the spectroscopic focus. Our ray-traces show that a set of 16 CCDs is sufficient to cover both zeroths orders and over 90% of the dispersed signal. We study the impact of misalignment, finite size of components, and spacecraft jitter on the spectral resolution and effective area and prove that the design achieves R > 4000 even in the presence of these non-ideal effects.
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
We study a critical angle transmission (CAT) grating spectrograph that delivers a spectral resolution significantly above any X-ray spectrograph ever own. This new technology will allow us to resolve kinematic components in absorption and emission lines of galactic and extragalactic matter down to unprecedented dispersion levels. We perform ray-trace simulations to characterize the performance of the spectrograph in the context of an X-ray Surveyor or Arcus like layout (two mission concepts currently under study). Our newly developed ray-trace code is a tool suite to simulate the performance of X-ray observatories. The simulator code is written in Python, because the use of a high-level scripting language allows modifications of the simulated instrument design in very few lines of code. This is especially important in the early phase of mission development, when the performances of different configurations are contrasted. To reduce the run-time and allow for simulations of a few million photons in a few minutes on a desktop computer, the simulator code uses tabulated input (from theoretical models or laboratory measurements of samples) for grating efficiencies and mirror reflectivities. We find that the grating facet alignment tolerances to maintain at least 90% of resolving power that the spectrometer has with perfect alignment are (i) translation parallel to the optical axis below 0.5 mm, (ii) rotation around the optical axis or the groove direction below a few arcminutes, and (iii) constancy of the grating period to 1:105. Translations along and rotations around the remaining axes can be significantly larger than this without impacting the performance.