Under Construction Already!

It has been a busy summer for NEID and its team.  Now that the project has officially started, there are many tasks that must be done in a short amount of time.  Plans must be made, parts must be ordered, and blogs must be written!  Out of all this excitement and bustle, though, there is one important takeaway: NEID construction is underway!  Today we will briefly highlight the effort our summer students have put into fabricating NEID’s environment control system.

Background

In order to achieve the sub-meter-per-second Doppler velocity measurement precision required of NEID, there are dozens of sources of instrumental error that must be controlled as tightly as possible.  One of those variables is the thermo-mechanical stability of the spectrograph and its optics.  As the temperature changes within the instrument, the glass optics or their mounts will change shape or position slightly.  Temperature and pressure changes will also affect the index of refraction of any air in the instrument, altering the motion of photons.  The impact of these environmental changes on our measurements of the stellar spectra can be much greater than the changes we expect to see from orbiting exoplanets, so they must be mitigated!

Like its predecessor spectrograph the Habitable-zone Planet Finder (HPF), NEID will be outfitted with an environmental control system (ECS for short) to keep the temperature and pressure within the spectrograph as stable as possible.  The entire spectrograph will be surrounded by a temperature-controlled aluminum box called a “radiation shield,” which itself is encased in a high-quality vacuum chamber.  The high vacuum eliminates heat transport by convection, making it much easier for us to control the temperature of the radiation shield—and thus the instrument itself—to a very precise degree.  On the HPF blog, we showed that by using the HPF ECS to simulate conditions for NEID, we could control the instrument’s temperature to better than a thousandth of a degree!  This level of precision is required to make the instrument sensitive to Earth-like planets.

The HPF and NEID instruments, with critical elements of the environmental control system highlighted.

The HPF and NEID instruments, with critical elements of the environmental control system highlighted.

Another requirement for NEID is that it must fit within approximately the same physical dimensions as HPF in order to be housed in the WIYN Telescope’s instrument room.  As a result, the NEID vacuum chamber and radiation shield will look very similar to HPF’s.  The image above shows the two instruments, highlighting some of the similarities and differences.

The vacuum chamber is the first major component that must be fabricated for the NEID project.  The instrument has to have a home, after all!  Thus, while the vacuum chamber itself is being built by our collaborators at Pulseray, the team at Penn State has been busy working on everything that goes inside it.  Let’s take a quick look.

Let’s build it—again!

Because NEID utilizes nearly all of the technology we developed for HPF, it is much quicker and easier to build a second system.  Many of the growing pains of achieving sub-milliKelvin temperature control have already been experienced, and we can simply get things right the first time.  With that said, this is still no easy job!  As shown in the figure above, NEID has twice as many active heaters as HPF, and the sheer amount of cabling required to operate so many heaters and thermometers is daunting.  The optical bench is also larger for NEID, leaving less space to work with during assembly, so the design and application of the multi-layer insulation must also be carefully considered.

Students Demetrius Tuggle, David Conran, and Joe Smolsky assemble a wiring harness for the NEID ECS.

Students Demetrius Tuggle, David Conran, and Joe Smolsky assemble a wiring harness for the NEID ECS.

One advantage of building an instrument at a world-class university like Penn State is that there is never a shortage of talented young scientists to help with major projects.  We are fortunate to have four undergraduates—David Conran and Adam Dykhouse from Penn State, Joe Smolsky from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Demetrius Tuggle from the Ohio State University—helping us to fabricate the NEID ECS over the summer.

With the help of these hardworking students, fabrication of the environment control system’s heaters, thermometers, control electronics, and the half-mile or so of associated cabling is nearly complete!  Assembly of the many MLI blankets is now underway as well.

Gudmundur Stefansson supervises the assembly of an MLI blanket.

Gudmundur Stefansson supervises the assembly of an MLI blanket.

Moving so fast on the first major component of the NEID instrument is not just critical for completing a subsystem before classes start again in the Fall.  It is essential for keeping to NEID’s aggressive project schedule and having the instrument ready to follow up all of the exciting exoplanets that NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), to be launched in 2017, will discover.

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NEID Featured on the Many Worlds Blog

manyworlds

As part of NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet Systems Science (NExSS), science journalist Marc Kaufman documents new and interesting research related to NASA’s various exoplanet science programs on the Many Worlds blog.  His latest post features NEID, and its role in the worldwide effort to discover and characterize Earthlike planets.  Have a look!

In addition to keeping you updated on the latest news related to the NEID spectrograph’s development, we will occasionally highlight some of the scientific research efforts from our team that are especially pertinent to the instrument.  For a broader look at state-of-the-art exoplanet research, add a bookmark for Many Worlds!

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NEID: The Introduction

Welcome to NEID!  Here, we will document the development and deployment of a new high resolution planet-finding spectrograph that will be installed in 2019 on the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. This instrument will be open to all astronomers, who can propose to use it through a peer-reviewed time allocation committee.

The instrument is named NEID – derived from the word meaning “to see” in the native language of the Tohono O’odham, on whose land Kitt Peak National Observatory is located. NEID also is short for “NN-EXPLORE Exoplanet Investigations with Doppler Spectroscopy.” NEID will detect planets by the tiny gravitational tug they exert on their stars.

NEID is being developed as part of a joint initiative between NASA and the National Science Foundation called NN-Explore, the purpose of which is to discover and characterize planets around nearby stars (so-called “exoplanets”) using the Doppler (or Radial Velocity) technique.  The Doppler method of exoplanet discovery relies on making ultra-precise measurements of a star’s line-of-sight motion to detect the tiny gravitational perturbations of the planets that orbit that star.

NEID is being designed and built by a team of astronomers and engineers led by Principal Investigator Suvrath Mahadevan at Penn State University.  The NEID instrument team is comprised of members from Penn State, in addition to collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania, Macquarie University, the Physical Research Laboratory in India, the National Institute of Standards and Technology/University of Colorado, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Team Photo

The NEID Instrument Team

Be sure to come back to this space soon, as we will be bringing a lot of exciting information about NEID’s purpose, design, and construction, as well as highlighting some of the cutting-edge exoplanet research that this instrument is designed to support.

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