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28 July 2014 X-ray polarization capabilities of a small explorer mission
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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).
© (2014) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
Keith M. Jahoda, J. Kevin Black, Joanne E. Hill, Timothy R. Kallman, Philip E. Kaaret, Craig B. Markwardt, Takashi Okajima, Robert Petre, Yang Soong, Tod E. Strohmayer, Toru Tamagawa, and Yuzuru Tawara "X-ray polarization capabilities of a small explorer mission", Proc. SPIE 9144, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2014: Ultraviolet to Gamma Ray, 91440N (28 July 2014);

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