A photon-counting detector for exoplanet missions
September 5, 2011
This paper summarizes progress of a project to develop and advance the maturity of photon-counting detectors for NASA exoplanet missions. The project, funded by NASA ROSES TDEM program, uses a 256x256 pixel silicon Geiger-mode avalanche photodiode (GM-APD) array, bump-bonded to a silicon readout circuit. Each pixel independently registers the arrival of a photon and can be reset and ready for another photon within 100 ns. The pixel has built-in circuitry for counting photo-generated events. The readout circuit is multiplexed to read out the photon arrival events. The signal chain is inherently digital, allowing for noiseless transmission over long distances. The detector always operates in photon counting mode and is thus not susceptible to excess noise factor that afflicts other technologies. The architecture should be able to operate with shot-noise-limited performance up to extremely high flux levels, >106 photons/second/pixel, and deliver maximum signal-to-noise ratios on the order of thousands for higher fluxes. Its performance is expected to be maintained at a high level throughout mission lifetime in the presence of the expected radiation dose.