APEC Seminar (Astronomy - Particle Physics - Experimental Physics - Cosmology)

Speaker: Amir Caspi (Southwest Research Institute)
Title: New CubeSats for high-energy solar and astrophysics
Date: Thu, Jan 30, 2020, 13:30 - 14:30
Place: Seminar Room A
Abstract: Recent technological advancements have made CubeSats and other small satellites viable platforms for targeted science investigations from low-cost orbital platforms. While previously used primarily for in situ measurements, remote sensing from CubeSats is now achievable by leveraging improvements in miniaturized instrumentation along with high-precision attitude control, high-powered on-board computing, high-bandwidth communication, high-yield solar power generation, and even propulsion. CubeSats are particularly attractive for high-energy solar observations where large photon fluxes reduce sensitivity requirements, even for imaging, and solar flares represent ideal laboratories for studying processes relevant to other astrophysical contexts, as well.

Solar flares heat plasma to tens of megakelvin and accelerate electrons to tens or hundreds of MeV, but the physical mechanisms underlying these phenomena remain poorly understood. The acceleration and heating processes produce distinct X-ray spectral signatures, including bremsstrahlung and radiative recombination continua and discrete spectral lines from hot ions. X-ray spectroscopic observations thus provide unique diagnostics of the hot and accelerated electron and ion populations for accurate determinations of the temperature distribution, non-thermal power, and total energy contents.

We discuss the application of CubeSats for high-energy solar and astrophysics remote sensing observations, including the enabling technologies that provide transformative capabilities. We focus on discussion on two new CubeSats for solar physics -- one funded, and one proposed -- that will make unprecedented measurements to provide new insight into solar flare energetic processes. The IMpulsive Phase Rapid Energetic Solar Spectrometer (IMPRESS) CubeSat, funded by NSF, will launch in late 2021 to study hard X-ray (5-100 keV) pulsations from solar flares with subsecond sensitivity and resolution. The CubeSat Imaging X-ray Solar Spectrometer (CubIXSS) concept, proposed to NASA, would notionally launch in late 2022 to provide unprecedented soft X-ray (0.25-20 keV) spectroscopy to study elemental abundances and their evolution during flares. We then look forward and explore other potential astrophysics ideas including X-ray/gamma-ray polarimetry, axion searches, gravitational measurements, and deep-space observations.