What’s Next for NCT?

After our very successful Spring 2009 flight from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, the NCT group is turning its attention toward a more ambitious goal: a long-duration, round-the-world flight from Alice Springs, Australia.  The southern hemisphere launch site will allow us to observe the Galactic Center, which is rich in gamma-ray sources, and the long flight will enable us to make detailed maps of diffuse nuclear line emission in the galaxy.  With its wide-field imaging capability and great energy resolution, this is the science that NCT was designed to do, and we’re excited by the opportunity to push the envelope of discovery.

There are launch opportunities in Australia as early as Spring 2010, and we’re already working to figure out how to make that happen.  A two to three week flight from another continent is no minor logistical undertaking, though, so we’ll have to be smart in our preparation!  Thanks to our earlier-than-expected flight and the good condition of the instrument on recovery, we’re already well on our way.  Still, we have some improvements we’d like to make in the meantime.  NCT ’09 only flew 10 detectors of a possible 12, so it would be good to be able to fly the full complement.  We hope to make the solar panels lighter and more robust.  We’ll sort out the quirkiness of the rotor.  Finally, there are a number of bars on the gondola frame which bent on landing and will have to be remade.

We’ll be busy looking at the great data we obtained in our Ft. Sumner flight, too.  I have a big pile of efficiency calibration data to reduce and will take some polarization calibrations.  From flight, we’ll need to verify our backgrounds, and then we can start doing imaging and spectroscopy of our two sources, the Crab Nebula and Cas A.  We didn’t get quite enough exposure time on the Crab to expect to measure its polarization, but we should set a solid upper limit and learn some meaningful things about the analysis.

This blog will probably be quiet for a bit, but when the next campaign begins I’ll be back with updates from Down Under!  Until then…

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