This technology enables detection and measurement of x-rays in an x-ray polarimeter using a field-programmable gate array (FPGA). The technology was developed for the Gravitational and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS) mission. It performs precision energy and timing measurements, as well as rejection of non-x-ray events. It enables the GEMS polarimeter to detect precisely when an event has taken place so that additional measurements can be made. The technology also enables this function to be performed in an FPGA using limited resources so that mass and power can be minimized while reliability for a space application is maximized and precise real-time operation is achieved.

This design requires a low-noise, charge-sensitive preamplifier; a high-speed analog to digital converter (ADC); and an x-ray detector with a cathode terminal. It functions by computing a sum of differences for time-samples whose difference exceeds a programmable threshold. A state machine advances through states as a programmable number of consecutive samples exceeds or fails to exceed this threshold. The pulse height is recorded as the accumulated sum. The track length is also measured based on the time from the start to the end of accumulation. For track lengths longer than a certain length, the algorithm estimates the barycenter of charge deposit by comparing the accumulator value at the mid-point to the final accumulator value. The design also employs a number of techniques for rejecting background events.

This innovation enables the function to be performed in space where it can operate autonomously with a rapid response time. This implementation combines advantages of computing system- based approaches with those of pure analog approaches. The result is an implementation that is highly reliable, performs in real-time, rejects background events, and consumes minimal power.

This work was done by Kyle Gregory, Joanne Hill, and Kevin Black of Goddard Space Flight Center, and Wayne Baumgartner of the University of Maryland. For further information, contact the Goddard Innovative Partnerships Office at (301) 286-5810. GSC-16367-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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