NASA Neutron star mission begins science operations

This time-lapse animation shows NICER being extracted from the SpaceX Dragon trunk on June 11, 2017. Credit: NASA

NASA’s new Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission to study the densest observable objects in the universe has begun science operations.


Launched June 3 on an 18-month baseline , NICER will help scientists understand the nature of the densest stable form of matter located deep in the cores of using X-ray measurements.

NICER operates around the clock on the International Space Station (ISS). In the two weeks following launch, NICER underwent extraction from the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, robotic installation on ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 2 on board ISS and initial deployment. Commissioning efforts began June 14, as NICER deployed from its stowed launch configuration. All systems are functioning as expected.

“No instrument like this has ever been built for the station,” said Keith Gendreau, the principal investigator for NICER at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “As we transition from an instrument development project to a science investigation, it is important to recognize the fantastic engineering and instrument team who built a payload that delivers on all the promises made.”

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To date, NICER has observed over 40 celestial targets. These objects were used to calibrate the X-ray Timing Instrument and supporting star-tracker camera. The observations also validated the payload’s performance that will enable its key science measurements.

During NICER commissioning, an observation of low-mass X-ray binary 4U 1608-522 revealed a serendipitous Type I X-ray burst, a flare resulting from a…

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