Why is new x-ray sCMOS technology needed in space?

New x-ray imagers for Class-D space missions

Part 1 of 3

The New Era in Space

X-Ray emission image of Supernova Remnant
X-Ray Emission image of Supernova Remnant in M83 spiral galaxy 15M light years distant – Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/STScI/K.Long et al., Optical: NASA/STScI

The amazing discoveries made in astronomy and astrophysics over the last few decades have relied on continual improvement of detector technology and spacecraft capabilities. Recent advancements in detecting gravitational waves and imaging distant bodies in search of life have taken advantage of decades of progress in scientific instrumentation. With these advances and the lowering of launch costs generating a new era with greater access to space, opportunities to launch smaller Class-D space missions are becoming more viable and more frequent. However, lower cost, high performing sensor technologies are required to make the long awaited astronomy and astrophysics missions a reality.

The X-Ray Technology Gap

Rocket launch
Rocket launch – Credit: D061999a JPL PhotoLab

A survey of the astronomy and astrophysics communities identified a requirement for higher resolution soft x-ray imaging in support of frequent smaller scale space missions. These missions are needed to complement larger space missions and to fulfill both short and long-term scientific goals. Exclusively relying on Class-C and above missions would be prohibitively expensive and the lower launch frequency would delay discoveries well beyond the 2020’s. The current situation often forces scientists to choose between cheaper, sub-par detectors or those designed for Class-C and above missions, costing many millions of dollars each.

Supernova remnant Cassiopeia A
This image of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A combines some of the first X-ray data collected by NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, shown in magenta, with high-energy X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, in blue. Credit : NASA/CXC/SAO/IXPE

NASA has also recognized this need and is providing funding for qualified commercial sector x-ray technology providers to step up to the plate and close the gap. Researchers are counting on the efficiency and rapid development cycle of the commercial science sector to provide new Class-D space mission capable x-ray sensor solutions.

View part 2 of this article, where we look at the space readiness of the existing x-ray imaging technologies used in the terrestrial labs.

Experiment chamber of the Coherent Soft X-Ray Scattering (CSX) beamline
The experiment chamber of the Coherent Soft X-ray Scattering (CSX) beamline at NSLS-II before pump down and testing with the sCMOS camera.

Learn more about the existing sCMOS x-ray detector technology and how it is being put to good use for soft x-ray science in labs around the world.