2011 IR&D Annual Report

Establishing Astrophysics at Southwest Research Institute, 15-R8141

Principal Investigators
Peter W.A. Roming
Randall J. Rose
Gregory S. Winters
Robert A. Klar

Inclusive Dates:  04/01/10 – 03/31/11

Background — SwRI has a long history of excellence in heliophysics and planetary physics instrumentation and science missions. SwRI would like to expand into astrophysics instrumentation and science missions. The NASA Science Mission Directorate's most recent Science Plan (2010) and the Astrophysics Decadal Survey (2010) highlighted the importance of Balloon- and Explorer-class programs for astrophysics. Of necessity, this requires that current and new technologies for accomplishing the goals of the astrophysics community become more compact, low mass and low cost while maintaining high reliability and facilitating high-performance science. One such potential technology is a stabilized dispersive focal plane system (SDFPS) that allows a wide-field spectroscopic survey to be accomplished while simultaneously stabilizing the image field with only a single detector. This cost-effective technology would have a tremendous impact on future dark energy, low- and high-z quasar, large-scale structure and brown dwarf surveys, just to name a few.

Approach — A component of establishing astrophysics as an area of focus at SwRI is bringing the SDFPS technology to a high technical readiness level (TRL). The method for raising this technology to a TRL 6/7 is: defining the interface between the application-specific integrated circuit and the control electronics, building a prototype SDFPS, testing the system with a representative light source in a relevant environment thus raising the technology to TRL 6, and investigating balloon demonstration opportunities that would allow the technology to be raised to TRL 7.

Accomplishments — All interfaces between the application-specific integrated circuit and the control electronics have been defined and connected. A prototype SDFPS was built and run in both direct and dispersed modes with a jitter source moving the beam every two seconds. In both the direct and dispersed modes the SDFPS stabilized the beam. The basic concept of operation was been demonstrated. Balloon flights are being investigated.

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