NASA Goddard Instrument Launches on Japanese Observatory
A pioneering X-ray detector developed at NASA'S Goddard
Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md. will launch on
board the new Astro-E2 space observatory.
Astro-E2's primary instrument is the high-resolution X-ray
Spectrometer (XRS), developed jointly by GSFC and the Japan
Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Institute of Space and
Astronautical Science (ISAS). The XRS measures the heat
created by the individual
X-ray photons (light particles) it collects.
To sense the heat of a single photon, the XRS detector must
be cooled to an extremely low temperature, approximately -
460 degrees Fahrenheit. The coldest reaches of space are
approximately -454 degrees Fahrenheit. This will make the
XRS colder than space. Using this new technique, scientists
can measure higher X-ray energies with a precision about ten
times greater than with previous sensors.
"Astro-E2 will showcase an entirely new technology that will
not only serve as a test bed for future missions but produce
some spectacular science to boot," said Dr. Anne Kinney,
director of the Universe Division in NASA's Science Mission
Directorate. "This is the highly anticipated complement to
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Europe's XMM-Newton.
Scientists around the world eagerly await the launch," she
Astro-E2 was developed at JAXA's ISAS in collaboration with
U.S. scientists and other Japanese institutions. The mission
will contain three X-ray instruments. Scientists will use
these to study phenomena that radiate predominantly in X-
Astro-E2 will study black holes and the creation of chemical
elements necessary for life. Key targets include hot gas
falling toward black holes; the million-degree ejecta of
star explosions filled with newly minted elements such as
oxygen and calcium; and the optically invisible gas between
stars and galaxies, which comprise most of the ordinary mass
in the universe.
"Incoming light particles will raise the temperature of the
detector by only a few thousandths of a degree," said Dr.
Richard Kelley, Principal Investigator for the U.S.
contribution to Astro-E2. "Knowing the precise energy that
these light particles carry, we can infer new information
about their origins," he added.
Along with the XRS are four X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (XIS)
instruments, a collaboration among Japanese institutions and
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and the Hard X-
Ray Detector (HXD), built by the University of Tokyo, ISAS
and other Japanese institutions.
The XRS and XIS instruments will analyze X-ray photons
focused by individual telescopes, built at GSFC by a team
led by Dr. Peter Serlemitsos. The HXD also uses a tested and
Astro-E2 will be launched on an M-V rocket and will attain a
near-Earth circular orbit at approximately 353.4 miles. The
observatory's expected mission lifetime is five years. The
observatory will launch July 6 from Japan's Uchinoura Space
With its official name to be bestowed after deployment,
Astro-E2 is the fifth in a series of Japanese satellites
devoted to studying celestial X-ray sources. Previous
missions are Hakucho, Tenma, Ginga, and ASCA.
For more information about ISAS and JAXA on the Internet,
For more information about the Astro-E2 mission, visit:
Goddard Space Flight Center