The Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR is a NASA x-ray timing and spectroscopy instrument that is scheduled to be launched to the International Space Station in May of 2017. NICER’s mission is to observe the x-ray emissions of millisecond pulsars with a higher degree of temporal precision than any comparable instrument to date. From these observations, the NICER team hopes to obtain high-fidelity measurements of the radii of neutron stars, and to gain a better understanding of the exotic states of matter that exist within them.
Towards that end, NICER is comprised of an array of 56 Silicon Drift Detectors, along with associated electronics and x-ray concentrator optics with a 30 arcmin2 field of view. This hardware allows NICER to time-tag any x-ray photon it receives from a given target to an accuracy of 300 ns (absolute time.) NICER will be transported to the ISS on a SpaceX Dragon capsule, and will be integrated onto one of the space station’s ExPRESS Logistics Carrier ports, where it will independently slew between multiple targets in the Northern Hemisphere as the ISS orbits the Earth.
The MIT Kavli Institute was responsible for the development and calibration of the NICER detector subsystem, and members of the Astronomical Instrumentation Team played three key roles in that effort:
- First, our group was responsible for the mechanical design of the electronics housings and assembly of the subsystem hardware. This included the design and construction of the housings and cable assemblies, the integration of the electronic hardware, and vibration/thermal-vacuum testing of the finished assemblies.
- Second, we played an important part in the verification and refinement of the electronics hardware and software through a number of design revisions.
- Finally, members of our team were responsible for the setup, processes design, and support of the calibration system that was used to characterize the response of the detectors before their integration into the final assembly.
NICER payload, at the end of Integration and Test
From the NICER Flickr Album