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.
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 primary instrument of the proposed EXIST mission is a coded mask high energy telescope (the HET),
that must have a wide field of view and extremely good sensitivity. In order to achieve the performance goals
it will be crucial to minimize systematic errors so that even for very long total integration times the imaging
performance is close to the statistical photon limit. There is also a requirement to be able to reconstruct images
on-board in near real time in order to detect and localize gamma-ray bursts, as is currently being done by the
BAT instrument on Swift. However for EXIST this must be done while the spacecraft is continuously scanning
the sky. The scanning provides all-sky coverage and is also a key part of the strategy to reduce systematic errors.
The on-board computational problem is made even more challenging for EXIST by the very large number of
detector pixels (more than 107, compared with 32768 for BAT). The EXIST HET Imaging Technical Working
Group has investigated and compared numerous alternative designs for the HET. The selected baseline concept
meets all of the scientific requirements, while being compatible with spacecraft and launch constraints and with
those imposed by the infra-red and soft X-ray telescopes that constitute the other key parts of the payload. The
approach adopted depends on a unique coded mask with two spatial scales. Coarse elements in the mask are
effective over the entire energy band of the instrument and are used to initially locate gamma-ray bursts. A finer
mask component provides the good angular resolution needed to refine the burst position and reduces the cosmic
X-ray background; it is optimized for operation at low energies and becomes transparent in the upper part of the
energy band where an open fraction of 50% is optimal. Monte Carlo simulations and analytic analysis techniques
have been used to demonstrate the capabilities of the proposed design and of the two-step burst localization
How structures of various scales formed and evolved from the early Universe up to present time is a fundamental
question of astrophysics. EDGE will trace the cosmic history of the baryons from the early generations of massive
stars by Gamma-Ray Burst (GRB) explosions, through the period of galaxy cluster formation, down to the very low
redshift Universe, when between a third and one half of the baryons are expected to reside in cosmic filaments undergoing
gravitational collapse by dark matter (the so-called warm hot intragalactic medium). In addition EDGE, with its
unprecedented capabilities, will provide key results in many important fields. These scientific goals are feasible with a
medium class mission using existing technology combined with innovative instrumental and observational capabilities
by: (a) observing with fast reaction Gamma-Ray Bursts with a high spectral resolution (R ~ 500). This enables the study
of their (star-forming) environment and the use of GRBs as back lights of large scale cosmological structures; (b)
observing and surveying extended sources (galaxy clusters, WHIM) with high sensitivity using two wide field of view
X-ray telescopes (one with a high angular resolution and the other with a high spectral resolution). The mission concept
includes four main instruments: a Wide-field Spectrometer with excellent energy resolution (3 eV at 0.6 keV), a Wide-
Field Imager with high angular resolution (HPD 15") constant over the full 1.4 degree field of view, and a Wide Field
Monitor with a FOV of 1/4 of the sky, which will trigger the fast repointing to the GRB. Extension of its energy response
up to 1 MeV will be achieved with a GRB detector with no imaging capability. This mission is proposed to ESA as part
of the Cosmic Vision call. We will briefly review the science drivers and describe in more detail the payload of this
Large area, high spatial resolution CdZnTe pixel detectors are being developed for hard X-ray astronomy. We have designed and fabricated custom readout chips and bump-bond these to pixelated CdZnTe crystals using indium bump bonding technology. The resulting detectors have 16 x 16 pixels with 300 micron pitch, enabling low noise operation and permitting detailed imaging. These devices are ideally suited for the focal plane of future high-resolution hard x-ray focusing telescopes now being considered, such as the HXT on Constellation-X. An initial demonstration using the sparse read-out capabilities of these detectors is presented.
We propose a new astrophysics space mission for a low energy gamma-ray-burst observatory (LEGO) that will fit the envelope of a small-explorer (SMEX) type mission. The LEGO instrument combines silicon pixel detectors with ultra-high energy resolution and a novel cost effective fine-pitch coded mask, to image the sky with sub-arcminute accuracy in the 0.3 - 30 keV range with a wide field-of-view. LEGO is well adapted to study hundreds of short transients such as gamma-ray bursts and soft gamma repeaters in the unexplored energy range below 5 keV. LEGO takes one of the next logical steps in GRB studies in the post-BeppoSAX era by attacking the astrophysics questions raised by recent discoveries of variable radio, optical, and x-ray counterparts to burst sources. In addition to monitoring the sky for gamma-ray bursts, LEGO would provide a first all-sky monitor in the 0.3 - 30 keV range. LEGO will be sensitive to all mCrab sources in the sky in a day and to 0.1 mCrab sources in a year, and thus, may provide daily light curves and sensitive spectral measurements on about 103 objects and yearly data on an order of magnitude more sources.
Gamma-ray bursts remain one of the outstanding unsolved mysteries of astronomy. The next generation of instruments will address specific aspects of the gamma-ray burst problem and attempt to answer fundamental questions such as the distance scale. However, missing from the crop of planned or proposed instruments is one which combines high sensitivity and a large field of view, so that detailed studies can be performed on a large sample of weak bursts. Such a combination is difficult to obtain at a reasonable cost with the techniques currently used. We describe a novel application of the Compton telescope technique to the energy range 50 - 300 keV which can, in principle, provide the required capabilities using position sensitive semiconductor detectors.