CREST (Cosmic Ray Electron Synchrotron Telescope)

Responsable institution:  Indiana University / University of Michigan / University of Chicago / Pennsylvania State University / University of Minnesota and Northern Kentucky University
Principal Investigator:  Dr. James Musser

The Cosmic Ray Electron Synchrotron Telescope (CREST) instrument is a balloon payload designed to measure the flux of primary cosmic ray electrons at energies greater than 1 TeV. As electrons at these energies lose energy very rapidly during propagation through the interstellar medium, their detection would indicate the existence of sources that are nearby on a Galactic scale. In order to obtain the large exposure time and detector aperture required for this measurement, the approach used is based on the detection of synchrotron photons emitted by electrons in the Earth's magnetic field.

This technique has been suggested over the years but has never been fully exploited. It allows very large detector apertures, since the instrument need only intersect a portion of the line of photons, which extend over hundreds of meters of space, and not necessarily the electron itself. Conceptually, the detector has an effective area determined by the spatial extent of the synchrotron x-rays, and not the physical size of the detector.

The characteristic synchrotron photon energies range from of order 50 keV up to tens of MeV. These photons are emitted in a very narrow cone resulting in a line of photons many hundreds of meters long at balloon altitude, whose average energy is a strong function of the primary electron energy.

To separate signal events from background photons, two characteristics of the radiation must be exploited: the formation of a line of photons at the detector, and the very short time interval over which these photons are detected.

The main active detector of the CREST instrument is made of Barium Fluoride (BaF2) which was choosen based on its relatively high density and light yield, particularly in its fast scintillation component, which provides single photoelectron timings of well under 1 ns.

A total of 1024 crystals, 2 cm thick with a diameter of 5cm are deployed in a square pattern, with a 7.5 cm pitch in both orthogonal directions, covering a total area of roughly 2.3 x 2.3 m2. The body of the array is divided into 8 mechanical subunits, facilitating shipping and recovery.

A custom photomultiplier tube (PM) active base unit optimized for this application was developed. The PM includes a low power voltage divider. To accommodate the short wavelength response of the crystal's fast component, both faces of each crystal are coated with tetraphenyl butadiene (TPB) waveshifter. The crystal is covered with a highly reflective teflon film wrapping. A LED-fed optical fiber system provides each PMT with timing and signal amplitude calibration pulses during flight.

Each crystal is shielded from multiple Compton scattered background photons by a 4 mm thick, 60 mm long lead layer. Finally, the crystal array is segmented in blocks of 16, with each block supported in a matrix of polyethylene foam. The crystal array is surrounded on all sides by a 0.5 cm thick plastic scintillator veto shield. To maximize light output, the scintillators are wrapped in a highly reflective TEFLON-based diffuse lining material.

CREST uses a custom distributed electronics system to collect timing and pulse height information from the array and its anticoincidence shield, managed by a flight computer system based on a Pentium-M class single board computer with
USB interfaced flash memory data storage.

The instrument's structural backbone is a gondola made of aluminum alloy corner posts, carbon fiber composite cross-members, and a bed of aluminumalloy Cchannels which support the array (above) and front end electronics (below), as shown in the scheme above left (click to enlarge)

The instrument performance benefits strongly from high float altitudes, both in terms of reduced backgrounds and reduced signal attenuation. CREST was designed to meet the weight ceiling of 1800 kg required to achieve a float altitude of 39 km.

The CREST project have two phases: CREST-1 (flown in 2005) a prototype array designed to validate the technique and the full detector, CREST-2 (flown as a test in 2009) wich will be carried on a long duration balloon flight in Antarctica in 2010/2011.

Details of the balloon flight and scientific outcome

Launch site: Scientific Flight Balloon Facility, New Mexico, US  
Balloon launched by: Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF)
Balloon manufacturer/size/composition: Open balloon (zero pressure)  
Flight identification number: 592N

The balloon was launched using the dynamic method assited by launch vehicle at 13:59 utc on May 5th.

After an initial ascent phase with drift to the east the float altitude was achieved when the balloon was over Portales and there inverted again his course back to the west.

After a while a valving command was sent to the balloon to let it down to pressure altitudes simulating an Antarctic flight, where the science group collected data and verified operation of the instrument sensors.

The flight was terminated on May 5 at 22:51 UTC and landed 32 Nautic Miles NE of Roswell, New Mexico after 9 hours, 32 minutes of flight. The termination and manual and SAPR parachute separation were normal. The flight crew reported that the payload was in good condition.

The primary objective of this flight was to test the behaviour of the full scale instrument during a mission which resembled the flight conditions to be encountered during the long duration balloon in Antarctica.

No data is available yet about the scientific results of the flight.

External references and bibliographical sources