Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission

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The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission consists of a robotic spacecraft called Swift, which was launched into orbit on 20 November 2004, 17:16:00 UTC on a Delta II 7320-10C expendable launch vehicle. Swift is managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and was developed by an international consortium from the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. It is part of NASA's Medium Explorer Program (MIDEX). Swift is a multi-wavelength space-based observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Its three instruments work together to observe GRBs and their afterglows in the gamma-ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, and optical wavebands. Based on continuous scans of the area of the sky which one of the instruments monitors, Swift uses momentum wheels to autonomously slew into the direction of possible GRBs. The name "Swift" is not a mission-related acronym, but rather a reference to the instrument's rapid slew capability, and the nimble bird of the same name. All of Swift's discoveries are transmitted to the ground and those data are available to other observatories which join Swift in observing the GRBs. The Burst Alert Telescope detects GRBs events and computes its coordinates in the sky. It covers a large fraction of the sky (over one steradian fully coded, three steradians partially coded; by comparison, the full sky solid angle is 4p or about 12.6 steradians). It locates the position of each event with an accuracy of 1 to 4 arc-minutes within 15 seconds. This crude position is immediately relayed to the ground, and some wide-field, rapid-slew ground-based telescopes can catch the GRB with this information. The BAT uses a coded-aperture mask of 52,000 randomly placed 5 mm lead tiles, 1 metre above a detector plane of 32,768 four mm CdZnTe hard X-ray detector tiles; it is purpose-built for Swift. The X-ray Telescope can take images and perform spectral analysis of the GRB afterglow. This provides more precise location of the GRB, with a typical error circle of approximately 2 arcseconds radius. The XRT is also used to perform long-term monitoring of GRB afterglow light-curves for days to weeks after the event, depending on the brightness of the afterglow. The XRT uses a Wolter Type I X-ray telescope with 12 nested mirrors, focused onto a single MOS charge-coupled device (CCD) similar to those used by the XMM-Newton EPIC MOS cameras. On-board software allows fully automated observations, with the instrument selecting an appropriate observing mode for each object, based on its measured count rate. After Swift has slewed towards a GRB, the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope is used to detect an optical afterglow. The UVOT provides a sub-arcsecond position and provides optical and ultra-violet photometry through lenticular filters and low -esolution spectra (170650 nm) through the use of its optical and UV grisms. The UVOT is also used to provide long-term follow-ups of GRB afterglow lightcurves. The UVOT is based on the XMM-Newton mission's Optical Monitor (OM) instrument, with improved optics and upgraded onboard processing computers. Swift was launched on November 20, 2004, and reached a near-perfect orbit of 586x601 km altitude, with an inclination of 20. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]





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