NASA Mission Concept Would Seek Gravitational Wave Sources Aboard ISS

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A proposed NASA mission aims to install an optics system aboard the International Space Station to locate and characterize sources of gravitational waves that result from powerful cosmic events.

The Transient Astrophysics Observatory on the ISS project, or ISS-TAO, is one of three mission concepts that NASA could select in 2019 as the next Explorer Mission of Opportunity, the space agency said Thursday.

ISS-TAO will feature a soft X-ray Wide-Field Imager from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a Gamma-Ray Transient Monitor from Israel’s space agency.

The mission will look for transient X-rays and gamma rays that are released during supernovae and merging of black holes and neutron stars.

The ISS-TAO team designed the optics system based on lobsters’ eyes to provide a wide field of view necessary for the detection and imaging of unpredictable transient events.

Jordan Camp, principal investigator of ISS-TAO, said gravitational-wave observatories, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory and the Virgo interferometer facility, can detect gravitational waves but cannot precisely locate their sources.

ISS-TAO will work to aim its optics on portions of the sky identified by LIGO and Virgo, then focus X-rays to localize and characterize gravitational wave sources on behalf of the observatories, Camp added.

He noted that ISS-TAO could be launched by 2022 if chosen as an Explorer Mission of Opportunity.

Gravitational waves give scientists a “new view” of the universe and complement existing space knowledge, NASA said.

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