NASA to launch first-ever neutron-star mission

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NASA will launch the world’s first neutron-star mission committed to study these unusual objects. Nearly 50 years to discover the existence of rapidly spinning neutron stars. Neutron stars created when giant stars die in supernovas and their cores collapse. The protons and electrons essentially melting into each other to form neutrons. The agency also will use the same platform to carry out the world’s first demonstration of X-ray navigation in space.

The agency plans to launch the two-in-one Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER, aboard SpaceX CRS-11, a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station to be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. One of a kind investigation will begin observing neutron stars, the densest objects in the universe. The mission will focus especially on pulsars those neutron stars that appear to wink on and off. Because their spin sweeps beams of radiation past us, like a cosmic lighthouse. The mission’s development also involving the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Naval Research Laboratory, and universities across the U.S. and in Canada. Although the team had completed and delivered the refrigerator-sized payload. Equipped with 56 X-ray telescopes and silicon detectors ahead of schedule last summer

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Because of their extreme nature, neutron stars and pulsars have engendered a great deal of interest. Their existence is theoretically proposed in 1939 and discovered in 1967. Although neutron stars emit radiation across the spectrum, observing them in the energetic X-ray band. Offers the greatest insights into their structure and the high-energy phenomena that they host. Including star quakes, thermonuclear explosions, and the most powerful magnetic fields known in the cosmos. In pulsars, these flowing particles emit powerful beams of radiation from the vicinity of the magnetic poles. On Earth as Bell discovered these beams of radiation. Observed as flashes of radiation ranging from seconds to milliseconds depending on how fast the pulsar rotates.

In mission NICER will collect X-rays generated from the stars’ tremendously strong magnetic fields and from hotspots located at their two magnetic poles. At these locations, the objects’ intense magnetic fields emerge from their surfaces and particles trapped. Within these fields rain down and generate X-rays when they strike the stars’ surfaces.

To Demonstrate X-ray Navigation

Because these pulsations are predictable, can be used as celestial clocks, providing high-precision timing, like the atomic-clock signals supplied through the Global Positioning System, also known as GPS. Although ubiquitous on Earth, GPS signals weaken the farther one travels out beyond Earth orbit. Pulsars, however, are accessible virtually everywhere in space, making them a valuable navigational solution for deep-space exploration.

Using the same NICER hardware, the mission also plans to demonstrate the viability of autonomous X-ray or pulsar-based navigation, which has never been demonstrated before.

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In an experiment called the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology, the team will use NICER’s telescopes to detect X-ray light emitted within the pulsars’ sweeping beams of radiation to estimate the arrival times of the pulses. With these measurements, the team will use specially developed algorithms to stitch together an onboard navigational solution.

If an interplanetary mission equipped with such a navigational device, able to calculate its location autonomously. Largely independent of NASA’s Deep Space Network, considered to be the most sensitive telecommunications system in the world.

X-ray Communications Possible

However, X-ray navigation using NICER’s pulsar timing data is not the only technology the team would like to demonstrate. In another potential first, the team wants to demonstrate X-ray based communications, or XCOM a capability that could eventually allow space travelers. Including spacecraft, to transmit gigabits of data per second over interplanetary distances.

 

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