UMBC partners on STAR-X, a $3M NASA mission concept study through the CRESST II research consortium

Published: Feb 14, 2023

An artist's computer generated drawing of the STAR X space craft in space
An artist’s impression of the STAR-X spacecraft after its proposed launch in 2027-28. (Image courtesy of the STAR-X team and NASA/GSFC)

UMBC researchers are partnering on STAR-X, a nine-month mission concept study investigating black holes, galaxy clusters, and often-elusive transient cosmic events like supernova explosions. STAR-X stands for Survey and Time-domain Astrophysical Research Explorer. It is one of two Explorer missions to receive $3 million from NASA for this concept phase, before NASA selects one in 2024 to proceed with implementation, targeted for launch in 2028.

“With STAR-X, we want to come up with a survey that will catch very rare transient events,” said Antara Basu-Zych, a UMBC associate research scientist with the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology II (CRESST II). “We’re aiming to understand at what rate these events are happening, what types of systems they involve, and where in the universe they’re happening.”

Maintaining STAR-X’s mission data 

Woman smiling at camera.
Antara Basu-Zych. (Photo curtesy of Antara Basu-Zych)

This mission reflects the important role of strategic research partnerships in moving forward space science—what CRESST II was designed to achieve. UMBC’s CRESST II partners on STAR-X include NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, providing an X-ray telescope; the University of Colorado, providing an ultraviolet telescope; and Ball Aerospace, providing the spacecraft. UMBC’s role will focus on the mission data retrieved from STAR-X. 

Basu-Zych works with NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC). If the mission is selected for launch, HEASARC will house the data that STAR-X collects. Basu-Zych is currently developing a process to organize the data, along with methods of alerting the scientific community of interesting STAR-X discoveries, called targets of opportunity, that could be further explored. 

“Our role is to make it so that average scientists outside of the mission are able to do something valuable with the mission data,” she said. 

An agile spacecraft

The mission will conduct a medium survey covering 300 square degrees of the sky on a weekly basis, and a deep survey on a daily basis covering 12 square degrees. As NASA has described, those deep surveys would seek to map black holes and hot gas trapped in distant clusters of galaxies. Combined with infrared observations from NASA’s Roman Space Telescope, these observations would enable researchers to trace how massive galaxy clusters were built up over time.

Additionally, the spacecraft would be able to turn rapidly to point its wide-field X-ray and UV telescopes at transient cosmic sources, such as supernova explosions, gravitational wave events, and extreme black hole feeding events.

“STAR-X is fast moving, very agile, and can quickly go to a source that is interesting,” explains Basu-Zych. “It would be able to slew the sky within a day or within a couple of hours, depending on what event was happening, and target something very quickly.”

In addition to being agile, she notes, “the instrument itself has a large field of view and low particle background, so that helps us with picking out faint objects and will help us get to areas of deep sensitivity.”

With these time-domain surveys and detecting cosmic targets of opportunity, STAR-X seeks to address several key priorities outlined in the “Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s,” the latest decadal survey of the field released by the National Academies.

Tags: , , , ,

Scroll to Top