Concepts for Future High-Energy Astrophysics Missions

This page lists high energy astrophysics mission concepts that are candidates to be in the programs of national or international space agencies. More information on mission studies under NASA's Physics of the Cosmos (PCos) program office is available at the Physics of the Cosmos web site. In 2011 NASA HQ initiated an X-ray mission concepts study through the NASA Physics of the Cosmos Program. The final report of this study listed a number of notional missions, including a notional calorimeter mission (N-CAL), a notional X-ray grating spectrometer, AXSIO (see below), a notional wide-field imager (N-WFI), and various combinations of these capabilities on a single platform.

US (often with international partners)

  • AdEPT: Advanced Energetic Pair Telescope, a concept for a pair production telescope for medium-energy gamma-ray polarimetry designed to achieve angular resolution within a factor of two of the pair production kinematics limit (~0.6 degrees at 70 MeV), continuum sensitivity comparable with the Fermi-LAT front detector, and minimum detectable polarization less than 10% for a 10 mCrab source in 106 seconds.

  • AEGIS: Astrophysics Experiment for Grating and Imaging Spectroscopy, a concept for a high-throughput, high-resolution, moderate cost, soft X-ray spectrometer.

  • Arcus, a concept for an X-ray grating spectrometer mission to be deployed on the International Space Station, with a spectral resiolution of 2800 and an effective area of ~800 sq. cm at the critical O VII wavelength near 21 A, with an overall bandpass from 8-52 A, enabling a wide range of science objectives.

  • AXSIO: Advanced X-ray Spectroscopic Imaging Observatory, a concept for a broad-bandpass, high-sensitivity, high-resolution X-ray imaging spectroscopy mission.

  • AXTAR: Advanced X-Ray Timing Array, a concept for a large collecting area X-ray timing mission to study black holes and neutron stars.

  • BEST: Black Hole Evolution an Space-Time Observatory, a mission concept for deep hard X-ray imaging (5 - 70 keV) and broad-band X-ray polarimetry (2 - 70 keV).

  • Black Hole Finder, a possible component of NASA's Physics of the Cosmos program, with 2 possible proposed implementations:

  • BHI: Black Hole Imager: an X-ray mission which will directly resolve the event horizons of black holes.

  • EPE: Extreme Physics Explorer: a concept for a timing/spectroscopy mission that would use micro-channel plate optics (MCPO) to provide 4 m2 effective area focused to ~1 arc-min onto an X-ray calorimeter.

    EREXS: Epoch of Reionization Energetic X-ray Survey, a mission concept to study the birth and growth of the first black holes, as well as to perform a multiwavelength time domain astrophysics survey of a wide range of objects.

  • EXIST: Energetic X-ray Imaging Survey Telescope, a hard X-ray (5-600 keV) imaging all-sky deep survey mission that will use a coded-mask high-energy telescope (HET) with imaging CZT detectors to image sources such as AGN, black hole transients, etc., in a 70 by 90 degree field of view with 2 arcminute resolution; an accompanying optical/IR telescope (OIT) will enable multiwavelength studies and prompt follow-up of gamma-ray bursts.

  • Gen-X: The Generation X-Ray Mission, a large effective area (50 square meters at 1 keV, or 500 x Chandra) X-ray telescope to study the new frontier of astrophysics: the birth and evolution of the first stars, galaxies, and black holes in the early Universe.

  • HEX-P: High-Energy X-ray Probe, a concept for a probe-class next-generation high-energy X-ray mission with broadband (0.1-200 keV) response and ~40 times the sensitivity of previous missions above 10 keV.

  • IXPE: Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer: a concept for a highly sensitive x-ray polarimeter with imaging capability sensitive enough to measure X-ray (linear) polarization for a broad range of cosmic sources, primarily those involving neutron stars, stellar black holes, and supermassive black holes (AGN).

  • ISS-Lobster: a concept for a low-cost, wide-field X-ray transient mission on the International Space Station, with 30 x higher sensitivity compared to BAT, ASM, MAXI, and designed for transient study of black holes, neutron Stars, GRBs, etc.

  • Pharos: a concept for a rapid response mission to study the warm-hot intergalactic medium using GRBs as its probes, as well as to study the host galaxies of GRBs and the phyics of GRBs.

  • SMART-X: Square Meter, Arcsecond Resolution X-ray Telescope, a mission concept for a 2.3 m2 effective area, 0.5 arcsecs angular resolution X-ray telescope, with a 5 arcmins FOV, 1 arcsec pixel size microcalorimeter, 22 arcmins FOV imager, and high-throughput gratings.

  • SAHARA: Spectral Analysis with High Angular Resolution Astronomy, a mission concept for a soft X-ray optic with high spatial and spectral resolution over a wide field of view.

  • WhimEx: Warm-Hot Inter-Galactic Medium Explorer, a concept for a high-resolution (relection grating) spectrometer to study the WHIM, AGN outflows and many other classes of X-ray sources.

  • WFXIS: Wide-Field X-ray Imaging Spectrometer, a proposed mission to provide wide-field X-ray imaging spectroscopy with both high energy resolution (~ 5 eV) and high angular resolution (~ 10 arcsecs).

  • WFXT: Wide-Field X-ray Telescope, a proposed mission with an effective area 10 times Chandra's which will perform surveys of the sky in the soft X-ray band (0.4-6 keV).

  • Xenia: a Probe of Cosmic Chemical Evolution, a concept for a medium-size cosmology mission (with international collaborators) which will use gamma-ray bursts to probe the cosmic 'web', dark energy, dark matter, and clusters of galaxies.

Multinational and International

  • A-STAR: All-Sky Transient Astrophysics Explorer is a mission concept to detect and locate X-ray transients (XRT's), likely including gravitational wave sources, TDE's, gamma-ray bursts, etc., using a wide-FOV coded mask instrument (Owl) to detect XRT's and a sensitive wide-field focussing soft X-ray instrument (Lobster) to obtain arcminute or better positions [Europe]

  • Athena, an X-ray observatory proposed as a concept for a large effective area mission for the ESA science program, incorporating a single telescope with a fixed focal length (12 m) and two interchangeable instruments in the focal plane, a wide-field imager (WFI) and an X-ray integral field unit (X-IFU), i.e., an X-ray calorimeter. On Nov 28th, 2013, ESA selected the science theme "The Hot and Energetic Universe" for its next large satellite mission (L2), and on Jun 27th, 2014, it selected Athena as the mission for this theme, with a target launch date of 2028 [ESA]

  • DAMPE: Dark Matter Particle Explorer, a mission which will search for dark matter in the universe and also study cosmic ray acceleration and propagation, by detecting high-energy (5 GeV - 10 TeV) gamma rays and electrons, as well as cosmic rays with energies in the range from 100 GeV to 100 TeV [China]

  • EDGE: Explorer of Diffuse emission and Gamma ray burst Explosions, a mission with a high (< 3 eV) spectral resolution wide field spectrometer (WFS), together with a wide (1.4-degree diameter) field imager (WFI), a very wide (1/4 of the sky) field monitor (WFM) and a gamma-ray burst detector (GRBD) [Europe]

  • GRAVITAS: General Relativistic Astrophysics Via Timing and Spectroscopy, a large (1.5 m2) effective area, moderate (125 eV) spectral resolution, high (100 µs) temporal resolution broad (0.1 - 10 keV) band X-ray mission targetted at studies of the Fe K line region at 6.4 keV in compact objects [Europe]

  • MIRAX: Monitor e Imageador de Raios X, an X-ray transient mission [Brazil]

  • NHXM: New Hard X-ray Mission, a mission to do soft and hard (0.2-80 keV) X-ray imaging and polarimetry [Italy]

  • PheniX, a very-broad-band (1-200 keV) high spectral-resolution (<~ 0.5 keV) focussing X-ray telescope able to do Compton polarimetry for E > 50 keV, and a coded-mask all-sky monitor [Multi-national]

  • XIPE: the X-ray Imaging Polarimetry Explorer, a mission to do cosmic polarimetry in the 2-10 keV band, as well as solar flare polarimetry in the 15-35 keV band and solar coronal spectroscopy in the 1.2-15 keV band [Multi-national]


Web page author: Steve Drake (Stephen.A.Drake 'at' nasa.gov)

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Last modified: Thursday, 16-Oct-2014 12:47:14 EDT