A project in the UMass Lowell Center for Space Science & Technology, The Planet Imaging Coronagraphic Technology Using a Reconfigurable Experimental Base mission (PICTURE-B) is a NASA sounding rocket mission to directly measure optical light scattered by the debris disk around Epsilon-Eri, a nearby K2V-type star, 3.2 parsecs (10.5 light years) from Earth, with the relatively young age of approximately 1 billion years.
PICTURE-B consists of a 0.5 meter telescope and visible nulling coronograph instrument (a "nuller") to attenuate the overwhelmingly bright light from a star, while enabling dim light from material around the star to reach the science camera. The electronics section on PICTURE-B includes three networked computers, controlling the nuller, the science and wavefront sensing cameras and the fine pointing system. In the future, PICTURE-B can be reconfigured for extended balloon born observations of fainter, more distant, debris disks.
While PICTURE-B's scientific objectives are spectacular, its technology objectives are equally important impact. By demonstrating a visible nulling coronograph and a deformable mirror in the space environment, PICTURE-B will significantly advance the broader goal of direct imaging of Earth-like planets.
The PICTURE-B nuller was previously launched on a NASA sounding rocket from White Sands Missile Range in Oct. 2011 as the PICTURE mission, successfully demonstrating flight-worthiness and the fine steering technology. The remarkable fine steering control, required by the PICTURE-B mission and future missions to image exoplanets, kept the telescope pointed at the star Rigel to within a few millions of a degree (see Mendillo et al. 2012a ). Unfortunately, the science telemetry channel failed in-flight and no science data was received. The payload was successfully recovered and the ultra-low-expansion glass primary mirror did not survive re-entry and landing. The PICTURE-B payload will re-fly the original PICTURE nuller and fine steering system, while incorporating a new silicon carbide primary mirror. For a more detailed description of the PICTURE payload, see Mendillo et al 2012, "PICTURE: a Sounding Rocket Experiment for Direct Imaging of an Extrasolar Planetary Environment."