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NICER selected for implementation through NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program

On April 5, 2013, NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program announced the selection of the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission for implementation toward a launch in 2017. NICER and another selected mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), offered the best scientific value and most feasible development plans among four concept studies that were submitted to NASA in September 2012. NICER is an experiment designed to fly on the International Space Station, to probe the internal makeup of neutron stars and test a cutting-edge space navigation technology using the pulsed X-ray emissions of neutron stars.

NICER's Principal Investigator is Keith Gendreau of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD; its Deputy Principal Investigator is USRA Sr. Research Scientist Zaven Arzoumanian. USRA scientists Stephen Drake and Yang Soong are also members of the NICER team. "A neutron star is at the threshold density for matter - if it were compressed any further, it would collapse completely in on itself and become a black hole" said Dr. Arzoumanian. "We have no way of creating or studying this matter in any laboratory. There are many theories about what it is and how it behaves, but the only way to test our models and understand what happens to matter under such incredible pressures is to study neutron stars," he added. "The closest we come to simulating these conditions is in particle accelerators that smash atoms together at almost the speed of light. However, these collisions are not an exact substitute - they only last a split second, and they generate temperatures that are much higher than that which exists inside neutron stars."

The mission, also known as NICER/SEXTANT (Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology), will also demonstrate a groundbreaking navigation technology - using neutron stars as natural beacons - that could revolutionize NASA's ability to explore the Solar System, including Mars and beyond.

Supported by the Explorers Program in NASA's Science Mission Directorate and the Space Technology Mission Directorate's Game Changing Development Program, the mission team includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and commercial partners, who are providing spaceflight hardware. The Naval Research Laboratory and universities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Mexico, are providing science expertise.

Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is an independent, nonprofit research corporation where the combined efforts of in-house talent and university-based expertise merge to advance space science and technology. USRA works across disciplines including biomedicine, astrophysics, and engineering and integrates those competencies into applications ranging from fundamental research to facility management and operations. USRA engages the creativity and authoritative expertise of the research community to develop and deliver sophisticated, forward-looking solutions to Federal agencies and other customers - on schedule and within budget.