|Mission type||Neutron star astrophysics|
|Operator||NASA / GSFC / MIT|
|Mission duration||Planned: 18 months|
|Launch mass||372 kg (820 lb)|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||3 June 2017, 21:07:38UTC|
|Rocket||Falcon 9 Full Thrust|
|Launch site||Kennedy LC-39A|
|Perigee altitude||402 km (250 mi) AMSL|
|Apogee altitude||407 km (253 mi) AMSL|
|Epoch||21 February 2018, 12:32:45 UTC|
|X-ray Timing Instrument (XTI)|
NICER / SEXTANT mission patch
The Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) is a NASA telescope on the International Space Station, designed and dedicated to the study of the extraordinary gravitational, electromagnetic, and nuclear physics environments embodied by neutron stars, exploring the exotic states of matter where density and pressure are higher than in atomic nuclei. As part of NASA's Explorers program, NICER enabled rotation-resolved spectroscopy of the thermal and non-thermal emissions of neutron stars in the soft (0.2–12 keV) X-ray band with unprecedented sensitivity, probing interior structure, the origins of dynamic phenomena, and the mechanisms that underlie the most powerful cosmic particle accelerators known. NICER achieved these goals by deploying, following the launch, and activation of X-ray timing and spectroscopy instruments. NICER was selected by NASA to proceed to formulation phase in April 2013.
NICER-SEXTANT uses the same instrument to test X-ray timing for positioning and navigation, and MXS is a test of X-ray timing communication. In January 2018, X-ray navigation was demonstrated using NICER on ISS.
By May 2015, NICER was on track for a 2016 launch, having passed its critical design review and resolved an issue with the power being supplied by the ISS. Following the CRS-7 loss in June 2015, which delayed future missions by several months, NICER was finally launched on 3 June 2017, with the SpaceX CRS-11 ISS resupply mission aboard a Falcon 9 v1.2 rocket.
NICER's primary science instrument, called the X-ray Timing Instrument (XTI), is an array of 56 X-ray photon detectors. These detectors record the energies of the collected photons as well as with their time of arrival. A GPS receiver enables accurate timing and positioning measurements. X-ray photons can be time-tagged with a precision of less than 300 nsec.
During each ISS orbit, NICER will observe two to four targets. Gimbaling and a star tracker allow NICER to track specific targets while collecting science data. In order to achieve its science objectives, NICER will take over 15 million seconds of exposures over an 18-month period.
An enhancement to the NICER mission, the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT), will act as a technology demonstrator for X-ray pulsar-based navigation (XNAV) techniques that may one day be used for deep-space navigation.
As part of NICER testing, a rapid-modulation X-ray device was developed called Modulated X-ray Source (MXS), which is being used to create an X-ray communication system (XCOM) demonstration. If approved and installed on the ISS, XCOM will transmit data encoded into X-ray bursts to the NICER platform, which may lead to the development of technologies that allow for gigabit bandwidth communication throughout the Solar System. As of February 2019[update] the XCOM test is scheduled for spring 2019. XCOM (inc MXS) was delivered to the ISS in May 2019.
On 21 August 2019 (UTC; 20 August in the US), NICER spotted the brightest X-ray burst so far observed. It came from the neutron star SAX J1808.4−3658 about 11,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Previously scheduled for a December 2016 launch on SpaceX-12, NICER will now fly to the International Space Station with two other payloads on SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-11, in the Dragon vehicle's unpressurized Trunk.
Each photon detected by NICER is time-tagged with an absolute precision of much better than 300 nsec
Media related to NICER at Wikimedia Commons