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Array of Low Energy X-ray Imaging Sensors

The Array of Low Energy X-ray Imaging Sensors (ALEXIS) X-ray telescopes feature curved mirrors whose multilayer coatings reflect and focus low-energy X-rays or extreme ultraviolet light the way optical telescopes focus visible light. The satellite and payloads were funded by the United States Department of Energy and built by Los Alamos National Laboratory in collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories and the University of California-Space Sciences Lab. The satellite bus was built by AeroAstro, Inc. of Herndon, VA. The Launch was provided by the United States Air Force Space Test Program on a Pegasus Booster on April 25, 1993.[1] The mission is entirely controlled from a small groundstation at LANL.


ALEXIS scans half the sky with its three paired sets of EUV telescopes, although it cannot locate any events with high resolution. Ground-based optical astronomers can look for visual counterparts to the EUV transients seen by ALEXIS by comparing observations made at two different times. Large telescopes, with their small fields of view, cannot quickly scan a large enough piece of the sky to effectively observe transients seen byf ALEXIS, but amateur equipment is well suited to the task. All participants in the ALEXIS project, may comb the ALEXIS data for the coordinates of a likely current transient, then train their telescopes and observe the area.

There are six EUV telescopes which are arranged in three co-aligned pairs which cover three overlapping 33° fields-of-view. At each rotation of the satellite, ALEXIS is to monitor the entire anti-solar hemisphere. Each telescope consists of a spherical mirror with a Mo-Si layered synthetic microstructure (LSM) or Multilayer coating, a curved profile microchannel plate detector located at the telescope's prime focus, a UV background-rejecting filter, electron rejecting magnets at the telescope aperture, and image processing readout electronics. The geometric collecting area of each telescope is about 25 cm2, with spherical aberration limiting resolution to about 0.25°s. Analysis of the pre-flight x-ray throughput calibration data indicates that the peak on-axis effective collecting area for each telescope's response function ranges from 0.25 to 0.05 cm2. The peak area-solid angle product response function of each telescope ranges from 0.04 to 0.015 cm2-sr.

The spacing of the molybdenum and silicon layers on each telescope's mirror is the primary determinant of the telescope's photon energy response function. The ALEXIS multilayer mirrors also employ a "wavetrap" feature to significantly reduce the mirror's reflectance for He II 304 Angstrom geocoronal radiation which can be a significant background source for space borne EUV telescopes. These mirrors, produced by Ovonyx, Inc., are highly curved yet have been shown to have very uniform multilayer coatings and hence have very uniform EUV reflecting properties over their entire surfaces. The efforts in designing, producing and calibrating the ALEXIS telescope mirrors have been previously described in Smith et al., 1990.

ALEXIS weighs 100 pounds, uses 45 watts, and produces 10 kilobits/second of data. Position and time of arrival are recorded for each detected photon. ALEXIS will always be in a survey-monitor mode, with no individual source pointings. It is suited for simultaneous observations with ground-based observers who prefer to observe sources at opposition. Coordinated observations need not be arranged before the fact, because most sources in the anti-Sun hemisphere will be observed and archived. ALEXIS is tracked from a single ground station in Los Alamos. Between ground station passes, data are stored in an on-board solid state memory of 78 Megabytes. ALEXIS, with its wide fields-of-view and well-defined wavelength bands, complements the scanners on NASA's Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE) and the ROSAT EUV Wide Field Camera (WFC), which are sensitive, narrow field-of-view, broad-band survey experiments. ALEXIS's results will also highly complement the data from EUVE's spectroscopy instrument.

ALEXIS's scientific goals are to:

  • Map the diffuse background in three emission line bands with the highest angular resolution to date,
  • Perform a narrow-band survey of point sources,
  • Search for transient phenomena in the ultrasoft X-ray band, and
  • Provide synoptic monitoring of variable ultrasoft X-ray sources such as cataclysmic variables and flare stars.

Current status

After 13 years in orbit, the ALEXIS satellite reached the end of its career. Its solar arrays had degraded in charge producing ability, and two out of the four battery packs had failed. One remaining battery was barely working. As of the 29 April 2005, the final two satellite contacts in which its solar arrays will be intentionally tipped the sun, placing the Alexis system in the lowest power state for safety purposes after which it will stop being tracked.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "ALEXIS satellite marks fifth anniversary of launch". Los Alamos National Laboratory. 23 April 1998. Retrieved 17 August 2011.