As it has for the past few years, numerical modeling is being used to predict the on-orbit, high-contrast imaging performance of the WFIRST coronagraph, which was recently defined to be a technology demonstrator with science capabilities. A consequence has been a realignment of modeling priorities and revised applications of modeling uncertainty factors and margins, which apply to multiple factors such as pointing and wavefront jitter, thermally-induced deformations, polarization, and aberration sensitivities. At the same time, the models have increased in fidelity as additional parameters have been added, such as time-dependent pupil shear and mid-spatial-frequency deformations of the primary and secondary mirrors, detector effects, and reaction-wheel-speed-dependent pointing and wavefront jitter.
NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is being designed to deliver unprecedented capability in dark energy and exoplanet science, and to host a technology demonstration coronagraph for exoplanet imaging and spectroscopy. The observatory design has matured since 2013 [“WFIRST 2.4m Mission Study”, D. Content, SPIE Proc Vol 8860, 2013] and we present a comprehensive description of the WFIRST observatory configuration as refined during formulation phase (AKA the phase-A study). The WFIRST observatory is based on an existing, repurposed 2.4m space telescope coupled with a 288 megapixel near-infrared (0.6 to 2 microns) HgCdTe focal plane array with multiple imaging and spectrographic modes. Together they deliver a 0.28 square degree field of view, which is approximately 100 times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope, and a sensitivity that enables rapid science surveys. In addition, the technology demonstration coronagraph will prove the feasibility of new techniques for exoplanet discovery, imaging, and spectral analysis. A composite truss structure meters both instruments to the telescope assembly, and the instruments and the spacecraft are on-orbit serviceable. We present the current design and summarize key Phase-A trade studies and configuration changes that improved interfaces, improved testability, and reduced technical risk. We provide an overview of our Integrated Modeling results, performed at an unprecedented level for a phase-A study, to illustrate performance margins with respect to static wavefront error, jitter, and thermal drift. Finally, we summarize the results of technology development and peer reviews, demonstrating our progress towards a low-risk flight development and a launch in the middle of the next decade.
A photon counting camera based on the Teledyne-e2v CCD201-20 electron multiplying CCD (EMCCD) is being developed for the NASA WFIRST coronagraph, an exoplanet imaging technology development of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, CA) that is scheduled to launch in 2026. The coronagraph is designed to directly image planets around nearby stars, and to characterize their spectra. The planets are exceedingly faint, providing signals similar to the detector dark current, and require the use of photon counting detectors. Red sensitivity (600-980nm) is preferred to capture spectral features of interest. EMCCDs are baselined both as science and wavefront sensors in the coronagraph in order to simplify the system architecture. We are engaged in a test program to characterize the performance of the EMCCD in the required modes, as well as in a technology development program with Teledyne-e2v to ruggedize the sensors for use in space. In this paper we will summarize our progress, program status, and plans for flight development.
The WFIRST coronagraph is being designed to detect and characterize mature exoplanets through the starlight reflected from their surfaces and atmospheres. The light incident on the detector from these distant exoplanets is estimated to be on the order of a few photons per pixel per hour. To measure such small signals, the project has baselined the CCD201 detector made by e2v, a low-noise and high-efficiency electron-multiplying charge-coupled device (EMCCD), and has instituted a rigorous test and modeling program to characterize the device prior to flight. An important consideration is detector performance degradation over the proposed mission lifetime due to radiation exposure in space. To quantify this estimated loss in performance, the project has built a detector trap model that takes into account detailed trap interactions at the sub-pixel level, including stochastic trap capture and release, and the deferment of charge into subsequent pixels during parallel and serial clocking of the pseudo-two-phase CCD201 device. This paper describes recent detector trap model improvements and modeling results.
The WFIRST Coronagraph will be the most sensitive instrument ever built for direct imaging and characterization of extra-solar planets. With a design contrast expected to be better than 1e-9 after post processing, this instrument will directly image gas giants as far in as Jupiter's orbit. Direct imaging places high demand on optical detectors, not only in noise performance, but also in the need to be resistant to traps. Since the typical scene flux is measured in millielectrons per second, the signal collected in each practicable frame will be at most a few electrons. At such extremely small signal levels, traps and their effects on the image become extremely important. To investigate their impact on the WFIRST coronagraph mission science yield, we have constructed a detailed model of the coronagraph sensor performance in the presence of traps. Built in Matlab, this model incorporates the expected and measured trap capture and emission times and cross-sections, as well as occurrence densities after exposure to irradiation in the WFIRST space environment. The model also includes the detector architecture and operation as applicable to trapping phenomena. We describe the model, the results, and implications on sensing performance.
The WFIRST-AFTA coronagraph instrument takes advantage of AFTAs 2.4-meter aperture to provide novel exoplanet imaging science at approximately the same instrument cost as an Explorer mission. The AFTA coronagraph also matures direct imaging technologies to high TRL for an Exo-Earth Imager in the next decade. The coronagraph Design Reference Mission (DRM) optical design is based on the highly successful High Contrast Imaging Testbed (HCIT), with modifications to accommodate the AFTA telescope design, service-ability, volume constraints, and the addition of an Integral Field Spectrograph (IFS). In order to optimally satisfy the three science objectives of planet imaging, planet spectral characterization and dust debris imaging, the coronagraph is designed to operate in two different modes: Hybrid Lyot Coronagraph or Shaped Pupil Coronagraph. Active mechanisms change pupil masks, focal plane masks, Lyot masks, and bandpass filters to shift between modes. A single optical beam train can thus operate alternatively as two different coronagraph architectures. Structural Thermal Optical Performance (STOP) analysis predicts the instrument contrast with the Low Order Wave Front Control loop closed. The STOP analysis was also used to verify that the optical/structural/thermal design provides the extreme stability required for planet characterization in the presence of thermal disturbances expected in a typical observing scenario. This paper describes the instrument design and the flow down from science requirements to high level engineering requirements.
"Exo-C" is NASAs first community study of a modest aperture space telescope mission that is optimized for high contrast observations of exoplanetary systems. The mission will be capable of taking optical spectra of nearby exoplanets in reflected light, discovering previously undetected planets, and imaging structure in a large sample of circumstellar disks. It will obtain unique science results on planets down to super-Earth sizes and serve as a technology pathfinder toward an eventual flagship-class mission to find and characterize habitable Earth-like exoplanets. We present the mission/payload design and highlight steps to reduce mission cost/risk relative to previous mission concepts. Key elements are an unobscured telescope aperture, an internal coronagraph with deformable mirrors for precise wavefront control, and an orbit and observatory design chosen for high thermal stability. Exo-C has a similar telescope aperture, orbit, lifetime, and spacecraft bus requirements to the highly successful Kepler mission (which is our cost reference). Much of the needed technology development is being pursued under the WFIRST coronagraph study and would support a mission start in 2017, should NASA decide to proceed. This paper summarizes the study final report completed in March 2015.
“Exo-C” is NASA’s first community study of a modest aperture space telescope designed for high contrast observations of exoplanetary systems. The mission will be capable of taking optical spectra of nearby exoplanets in reflected light, discover previously undetected planets, and imaging structure in a large sample of circumstellar disks. It will obtain unique science results on planets down to super-Earth sizes and serve as a technology pathfinder toward an eventual flagship-class mission to find and characterize habitable exoplanets. We present the mission/payload design and highlight steps to reduce mission cost/risk relative to previous mission concepts. At the study conclusion in 2015, NASA will evaluate it for potential development at the end of this decade.