There is an increasing demand in solar and astrophysics for high resolution X-ray spectroscopic imaging. Such observations would present ground breaking opportunities to study the poorly understood high energy processes in our solar system and beyond, such as solar flares, X-ray binaries, and active galactic nuclei. However, such observations require a new breed of solid state detectors sensitive to high energy X-rays with fine independent pixels to sub-sample the point spread function (PSF) of the X-ray optics. For solar observations in particular, they must also be capable of handling very high count rates as photon fluxes from solar flares often cause pile up and saturation in present generation detectors. The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) has recently developed a new cadmium telluride (CdTe) detector system, called HEXITEC (High Energy X-ray Imaging Technology). It is an 8080 array of 250 μm independent pixels sensitive in the 2−200 keV band and capable of a high full frame read out rate of 10 kHz. HEXITEC provides the smallest independently read out CdTe pixels currently available, and are well matched to the few arcsecond PSF produced by current and next generation hard X-ray focusing optics. NASA's Goddard and Marshall Space Flight Centers are collaborating with RAL to develop these detectors for use on future space borne hard X-ray focusing telescopes. We show the latest results on HEXITEC's imaging capability, energy resolution, high read out rate, and reveal it to be ideal for such future instruments.
A fundamental challenge in a spaceborne application of a gas-based Time Projection Chamber (TPC) for observation of X-ray polarization is handling the large amount of data collected. The TPC polarimeter described uses the APV-25 Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) to readout a strip detector. Two dimensional photo- electron track images are created with a time projection technique and used to determine the polarization of the incident X-rays. The detector produces a 128x30 pixel image per photon interaction with each pixel registering 12 bits of collected charge. This creates challenging requirements for data storage and downlink bandwidth with only a modest incidence of photons and can have a significant impact on the overall mission cost. An approach is described for locating and isolating the photoelectron track within the detector image, yielding a much smaller data product, typically between 8x8 pixels and 20x20 pixels. This approach is implemented using a Microsemi RT-ProASIC3-3000 Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), clocked at 20 MHz and utilizing 10.7k logic gates (14% of FPGA), 20 Block RAMs (17% of FPGA), and no external RAM. Results will be presented, demonstrating successful photoelectron track cluster detection with minimal impact to detector dead-time.
The demand for higher resolution x-ray optics (a few arcseconds or better) in the areas of astrophysics and solar science has, in turn, driven the development of complementary detectors. These detectors should have fine pixels, necessary to appropriately oversample the optics at a given focal length, and an energy response also matched to that of the optics. Rutherford Appleton Laboratory have developed a 3-side buttable, 20 mm x 20 mm CdTe-based detector with 250 μm square pixels (80x80 pixels) which achieves 1 keV FWHM @ 60 keV and gives full spectroscopy between 5 keV and 200 keV. An added advantage of these detectors is that they have a full-frame readout rate of 10 kHz. Working with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Marshall Space Flight Center, 4 of these 1mm-thick CdTe detectors are tiled into a 2x2 array for use at the focal plane of a balloon-borne hard-x-ray telescope, and a similar configuration could be suitable for astrophysics and solar space-based missions. This effort encompasses the fabrication and testing of flightsuitable front-end electronics and calibration of the assembled detector arrays. We explain the operation of the pixelated ASIC readout and measurements, front-end electronics development, preliminary X-ray imaging and spectral performance, and plans for full calibration of the detector assemblies. Work done in conjunction with the NASA Centers is funded through the NASA Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Research and Analysis Program.
Set to fly in the Fall of 2013 from Ft. Sumner, NM, the High Energy Replicated Optics to Explore the Sun
(HEROES) mission is a collaborative effort between the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the Goddard Space Flight Center to upgrade an existing payload, the High Energy Replicated Optics (HERO) balloon-borne telescope, to make unique scientific measurements of the Sun and astrophysical targets during the same flight. The HEROES science payload consists of 8 mirror modules, housing a total of 109 grazing-incidence optics. These modules are mounted on a carbon-fiber and Aluminum optical bench 6 m from a matching array of high pressure xenon gas scintillation proportional counters, which serve as the focal-plane detectors. The HEROES gondola utilizes a differential GPS system (backed by a magnetometer) for coarse pointing in the azimuth and a shaft angle encoder plus inclinometer provides the coarse elevation. The HEROES payload will incorporate a new solar aspect system to supplement the existing star camera, for fine pointing during both the day and night. The overall payload will be discussed as well as the new solar aspect system. This mission is funded by the NASA HOPE (Hands On Project Experience) Training Opportunity awarded by the NASA Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership, in partnership with NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Office of the Chief Engineer and Office of the Chief Technologist.
The Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS) will realize its scientific objectives through high sensitivity linear X-ray polarization measurements in the 2-10 keV band. The GEMS X-ray polarimeters, based on the photoelectric effect, provide a strong polarization response with high quantum efficiency over a broad band-pass by a novel implementation of the time projection chamber (TPC). This paper will discuss the basic principles of the TPC polarimeter and describe the details of the mechanical and electrical design of the GEMS flight polarimeter. We will present performance measurements from two GEMS engineering test units in response to polarized and unpolarized X-rays and before and after thermal and vibration tests performed to demonstrate that the design is at a technology readiness level 6 (TRL-6).
The scientific objective of the X-ray Advanced Concepts Testbed (XACT) is to measure the X-ray polarization
properties of the Crab Nebula, the Crab pulsar, and the accreting binary Her X-1. Polarimetry is a powerful tool for
astrophysical investigation that has yet to be exploited in the X-ray band, where it promises unique insights into neutron
stars, black holes, and other extreme-physics environments. With powerful new enabling technologies, XACT will
demonstrate X-ray polarimetry as a practical and flight-ready astronomical technique. Additional technologies that
XACT will bring to flight readiness will also provide new X-ray optics and calibration capabilities for NASA missions
that pursue space-based X-ray spectroscopy, timing, and photometry.