LOFT: A NEW MISSION CONCEPT FOR X-RAY TIMING SELECTED BY THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY
LOFT, the Large Observatory for X-ray Timing, is a new mission devoted to X-ray timing and has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) for a study and assessment phase together with three other missions EChO, Marco Polo-R, and STE-QUEST. The selection has been done as part of the latest "Cosmic Vision" call to choose a medium-size space mission, to which 47 proposals have been presented from several European countries. One among these four will be selected and launched in 2020.
LOFT is a satellite that will observe the behaviour of the matter under extreme physical conditions, which are not reproducible in our laboratories on the Earth. The satellite will stare, with his X-ray sensitive "eye", at objects like black holes and neutron stars, to catch a glimpse of the last instants of the matter being swallowed by their gravitational fields, the strongest in the Universe.
LOFT is led by a collaboration of researchers spread in most of the European countries, including Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Greece, Ireland, The Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, and Spain. Researchers and Institutes from Brazil, Canada, Israel, United States and Turkey have also expressed a strong interest in the project. The principal investigators are Marco Feroci, Luigi Stella, D. Barret, S. Brandt, J.-W. den Herder, M. Hernanz, M. van der Klis, M. Pohl, A. Santangelo, L. Stella, S. Zane, E. Bozzo.
LOFT's winning feature is its huge "eye" which, once in orbit, will deploy and reach a total surface of about 20 m2. This will result in an effective area 20 times larger than that of similar satellites built so far.
What makes such an instrument possible are the detectors, which were originally developed at the National Institute for Nuclear Physics in Trieste for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva. They represent the state of the art of the silicon-based technology, and have been implemented in space science thanks to the collaboration between the two institutes, INFN and INAF, with the support of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), as well as of the Silicon Radiation Sensors group at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler.